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Accidental Needle Sticks: Chances of Infection


Topic Overview

Everyone is concerned about getting a contagious disease, such as hepatitis B, hepatitis C, or human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), from a used needle. Most people are not considered at high risk for these infections, even if they accidentally come into contact with infected blood or body fluids.

There probably isn't much risk of getting these viruses if infected blood comes into contact with intact skin. But the risk may be higher with a stick from a used needle. The degree of risk depends on:

  • How much infected blood you are exposed to.
  • The amount of the virus present in the blood. People who have symptoms or those who are very sick with the disease tend to have greater amounts of the virus in their blood.

Protect yourself from accidental exposure by disposing of sharp objects properly and wearing protective gloves. The hepatitis B vaccine is safe and effective in preventing hepatitis B, so be sure to have current immunizations.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the following steps if you have any exposure to blood:

  • Wash needle sticks and cuts with soap and water.
  • Use water to flush splashed blood from your nose, mouth, or skin.
  • Wash your eyes with a steady stream of clean water, saltwater solution (saline), or a sterile irrigant.
  • Do not squeeze a puncture wound or cut, and do not wash the affected area with antiseptics or bleach.

Call your doctor right away. In some cases, medicine may be recommended and should be started right away.

Related Information

Credits

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerWilliam H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerDavid Messenger, MD
Last RevisedJune 10, 2010

eMedicineHealth Medical Reference from Healthwise

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