Study Shows Dramatic Drop In Needlestick Risks For Healthcare Workers
When working with needles, healthcare workers always have to be concerned about contracting a life-altering or even life-threatening infection from HIV, hepatitis B or hepatitis C. But after 20 years of intense regulatory and legislative activity and innovative changes to the design and handling of needles, U.S. healthcare workers are now significantly safer from needlestick injuries, according to a new study from the University of Virginia International Healthcare Worker Safety Center.
"Since the U.S. Needlestick Safety and Prevention Act was passed in 2000, American healthcare workers have benefited from an unprecedented level of protection from occupationally transmitted diseases," says Janine Jagger, M.P.H., Ph.D., director of the Center and co-author of the study published in the December 8 issue of the Journal of Infection and Public Health.
"This is a very significant advance and a remarkable public health success story," says Elayne Phillips, M.P.H., Ph.D., assistant professor in the UVA School of Medicine and director of research for the International Healthcare Worker Safety Center, who co-authored the study with Jagger.
Researchers analyzed 12 years of needlestick injury data (1993-2004) from a large network of U.S. hospitals and found a 34 percent decline in needlestick injury rates for U.S. healthcare workers overall and a 51 percent decline for nurses, who handle needles most frequently in healthcare settings. And while the needlestick law wasn't passed until 2000, Jagger and colleagues spent many years preceding its passage lobbying for stronger regulations.
For the last 20 years, Jagger has been a leading advocate not only for legislation but also for the development of safety-engineered medical devices to protect health workers. Such safety devices incorporate shielding, retracting or blunting features that protect workers from contaminated sharp devices.
In this study, researchers found that significant reductions in U.S. sharps injury rates were observed only after safety devices became the predominant technology. Furthermore, the passage of the law requiring the use of these safety devices was critical to their widespread adoption.