An Austin police officer was stuck in the hand by a man with a hypodermic needle while struggling. The officer was trying to arrest him on suspicion of drinking in a public park downtown. These types of injuries are not uncommon and the police and public need to know what to do in the event of an accidental needle stick.
A needle stick injury is the most frequent route of exposure to blood-born pathogens. Anyone stuck by a contaminated needle should consult their health care provider should testing and treatment become necessary.
According to the Needle Stick Hepatitis and Aids Injury Lawsuits web site, it is estimated that between 600,000 - 800,000 Needle Stick injuries occur annually that involve contaminated needles. Others estimate that a needle stick injury is reported every 30 seconds, which means that there are over 1 million such cases per year.
What sorts of diseases should you worry about? The most frequently transmitted pathogens include:
- Hepatitis - all forms
- HIV - and other viral infections
- Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD's)
- Any other bacterial or viral infection
While health care workers are at most risk of being stuck by a contaminated needle, accidental sticks like the one for the Austin policeman can and do happen. Anyone who works with the public and especially indigent people are also at high risk of being stuck by a needle.
Should you have an injury with a contaminated needle, it is wise to get tested for HIV and hepatitis to make sure you do not already have the infections. This is called a baseline exam. If at all possible, get the testing done on the person or persons that have used the needle as well. There are treatments available that may protect you from contracting the infections carried by the needle. Of course, you should immediately clean the puncture wound with soap, water, and alcohol as soon as possible.
Be careful out there!