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Exposures to blood viruses on the rise

Healthcare workers are at risk of exposure to blood borne viruses (BBV) such as HIV, hepatitis B and C.

A report launched by Public Health England (PHE) warns that the number of healthcare workers reporting occupational exposures increased from 373 in 2004 to 496 in 2013.

Of these exposures, 81% were sustained by doctors, nurses and healthcare assistants, 65% occurred during clinical procedures and 71% were as a result of a needlestick injury.

The report, presented at the 5th Prevention of Occupational Infections, Treatment and Reporting Strategies (POINTERS) conference in Cardiff City Hall, comes after the EU Sharps Directive in 2010 and the UK Sharps Regulations in 2013, which state that safe working conditions must be created for healthcare workers to help reduce the risk of sharps injury.

Dr Fortune Ncube, Head of the BBV Department at PHE said: “It is a disappointment that we still continue to see injuries to healthcare workers occurring after the procedure, in the period prior to and during disposal. These injuries are entirely preventable.

“Despite this, we are encouraged that there have been no new HIV infections in healthcare workers and that the immunisation programme for hepatitis B is effective in preventing HBV infections in healthcare workers. We want to remind all healthcare employers to comply with the regulations regarding safer working conditions.

Jill Holmes, Infection Prevention Control Nurse Specialist added:  “Safety-engineered devices are not fool proof. Unless they are used correctly, these devices will not be effective or prevent sharps injuries. It is vital that healthcare providers train new and existing staff in their correct use.

“It is also essential for all staff to remember the importance of basic sharps safety, such as never, ever re-sheathing a used needle, always taking the sharps bin to the point of use, and never filling above the fill line. Safe use and handling of sharps must be embedded into everyday practice."