Health Care Workers Face Increased Risk Of Mortality From HIV

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A new CDC study published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine has found that health care workers face an increased risk of dying from bloodborne diseases, such as HIV, and related illnesses compared with workers in other fields, Reuters reports. The study also found that male health care workers face a more than twofold risk of dying from HIV/AIDS-related causes. According to researchers Sara Luckhaupt and Geoffrey Calvert of CDC's National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, accidental needle sticks and other workplace accidents can put health care workers at an increased risk of exposure to bloodborne diseases. Luckhaupt notes that evidence over the past 20 to 25 years shows that health care workers have been more likely to die from bloodborne diseases than workers in other fields, Reuters reports.

The study examined data from the National Occupational Mortality Surveillance system from 1984 to 2004, which included 248,550 deaths from HIV/AIDS, hepatitis B and C, liver cancer and cirrhosis. According to Reuters, the researchers in a previous study found that male health care workers were at an increased risk of HIV and hepatitis but conducted the new study to determine if deaths from these infections also were higher in the health care field.


Results pointed to a more than doubled risk of dying from HIV/AIDS-related causes for male health care workers -- as well as a nearly doubled likelihood of dying from hepatitis B -- compared with workers in other fields. Hepatitis C and cirrhosis deaths were also more likely among male health care workers. For female health care workers, hepatitis C was more frequent than in other occupations. An analysis of mortality risk based on occupation showed that male nurses faced the highest risk of HIV/AIDS and hepatitis B mortality, while female nurses were 31% less likely to die from HIV/AIDS-related causes than women outside of the health care industry, Reuters reports.

Luckhaupt said that the researchers are unable to say how much the increased risk is because of occupational or non-occupational exposure but added that it is "important to look at both." The researchers wrote, "The greatest limitation to our study was that information was not available on possible confounding factors, such as sexual risk behaviors, history of blood transfusions, intravenous drug use and alcohol use." They added that previous studies indicate that most infections among health care workers are not contracted on the job and that occupational factors could be a stand-in for other risk factors. They suggest that "interventions to decrease the risk of bloodborne pathogens among health-care workers may need to be gender-specific" in order to better understand why male health care workers show an increased risk for bloodborne disease mortality (Harding, Reuters, 11/19).

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