THURSDAY, April 4 (HealthDay News) -- Injuries caused by sharp
medical instruments are a major hazard for surgeons and other
operating room staff, and put them at risk for infection with
serious diseases, according to experts.
Nearly 400,000 "sharps" injuries occur each year in the United
States, and about 25 percent of those injuries occur among
surgeons, with their risk at the highest while in the operating
room, said Dr. Kevin Chung and colleagues at the University of
Michigan Health System.
Because fatigue and inexperience contribute to sharps injuries,
residents and medical students are also at high risk, the study
authors noted in their report, which is published in the April
issue of the journal
Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.
"Despite health care policies designed to protect health care
workers, [sharps] injuries remain common," the investigators
The biggest concern for those at risk is the fear of getting an
infectious disease from a patient. While HIV, the virus that causes
AIDS, is commonly considered the most feared outcome, the risk of
infection with hepatitis B is actually much higher, according to
Chung and colleagues.
In addition, sharps injuries can have a considerable
psychological impact on the medical professional and their family
members, especially while they wait to confirm that the injured
person is free of infection, a process that can take weeks or
After a sharps injury, there are standard guidelines to follow
if a patient has an infectious disease, according to a journal news
release. This includes antiviral medications for health workers
exposed to HIV and hepatitis B or C virus, ideally starting within
hours after the injury.
The average cost for testing, follow-up and preventive treatment
after a sharps injury ranges from $375 for needlestick exposure
from a patient with no known blood-borne infectious disease up to
nearly $2,500 for injuries from a patient with HIV.
Chung and colleagues said they hoped their review would help
increase awareness of the risks and potential harms of sharps
injuries among those working in an operating room, and would
increase efforts to reduce the risk.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine outlines how to handle
needles and other sharps.