Treating a Sharps Injury: Your GuideGreg Garner
When you work in health care, you have a lot to consider. You have to follow HIPAA rules, give excellent patient care, and work with special equipment.
If that equipment includes sharps, you also need to consider your risk of a sharps injury. Then, you have to know how to treat a sharps injury so that you can take quick action after one occurs.
Read on to learn more about how to prevent a needle stick injury and how to treat all sharps injuries.
What Are Sharps?
Sharps is a term that can refer to any sharp medical instrument that you use to carry out treatment and other health care work. Needles and blades are two common types of sharps, but syringes, broken glass, and lancets are also sharps.
Patients also use sharps at home to treat conditions such as diabetes. However, the risk of a sharps injury is more common in a health care setting because of possible contamination.
Like any other health care tool, it’s important to keep sharps clean to avoid issues from a sharps injury. If someone doesn’t understand the importance of this, they should receive training on bloodborne pathogens.
That way, they can learn about the issues and why cleaning and maintaining sharps is crucial. Having a sharps injury protocol is also helpful.
How Can You Get a Sharps Injury?
A sharps injury can occur when a sharp cuts or pricks your skin. Of course, using a needle on a patient who needs an injection or has blood drawn doesn’t qualify as a sharps injury. However, it can be a problem if you use a needle that isn’t completely clean.
As a health care provider, you can also get a sharps injury if you or a coworker doesn’t have a steady hand. If the needle or blade slips, it may penetrate your skin.
You can also get a sharps injury if you work with sharps. If you or another employee didn’t store or dispose of sharps properly, you may come into contact with a used needle or blade. When it falls or hits your skin, you can treat it with a needle stick injury protocol.
Not knowing how to handle hazardous materials can increase the risk of your or others getting a sharps injury. Luckily, the right training can help you and your coworkers.
Risks from a Sharps Injury
The most significant risk of a sharps injury is exposure to bloodborne pathogens. An injury could expose you to over a dozen potential viruses, and each has its own problems.
However, some pathogens are more serious than others. As you learn how to prevent a needle stick injury, you should know how preventing the issue can protect you.
Consider a few potential risks from a sharps injury.
Hepatitis causes inflammation in your liver, and it can damage the organ. Even if your liver doesn’t suffer a ton of damage, it may not function as well. You can get hepatitis B from a virus, though it’s not very common in the United States.
However, it can still be a risk if you do get a sharps injury if someone with hepatitis B used the same needle or syringe. Hepatitis B can be chronic (long-term) or acute (short-term).
Acute hepatitis B can resolve on its own, but chronic hepatitis B may require treatment. If you get a sharps injury and expect contamination from hepatitis B, you should seek medical care to treat it.
Then, you can reduce the risk of damaging your liver. You should also look for symptoms such as fatigue, jaundice, and diarrhea, which can be signs of hepatitis B.
Hepatitis C is another type of the liver disease, and it also comes from exposure to the blood of someone with it. Using an infected needle is one of the most common ways to transmit hepatitis C.
Knowing how to prevent a needle stick injury can help you avoid getting hepatitis C. However, getting hepatitis C can be either acute or chronic.
Jaundice, nausea, and stomach pain are common symptoms, but symptoms may not appear until weeks or months after the infection. That can also be a problem because someone with hepatitis C can be contagious before they develop symptoms.
While following a sharps injury protocol may not be able to prevent hepatitis C, it can help treat the disease early. Then, you can hopefully reduce the severity of the infection.
Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)
Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is preventable, and many interventions have been successful in avoiding the disease. However, you can still get it from infected needles.
While the prognosis for someone with HIV used to be grim, antiretroviral therapy has helped people live with HIV. It has also reduced the risk of giving HIV to others.
Still, HIV can be dangerous, especially when it progresses to Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS). Being able to prevent the transmission of HIV is ideal, but it may not always be possible.
In that case, needle stick injury management can be a good option. Then, you can seek treatment to treat and manage HIV.
Who Is at Risk of Sharps Injuries?
Health care workers and social workers are at risk of sharps injuries. Nurses and doctors working with scalpels are of course at risk, but the risk applies to anyone in the office. If you don’t store or dispose of sharps correctly, anyone who works near them could be at risk of a sharps injury.
Patients may also be at risk of a sharps injury if protocols fail. This can happen if someone forgets to clean the needle or blade properly. But it can also happen when a patient doesn’t comply with treatment.
If they lash out, their actions could hurt themselves but also any medical staff working with the patient.
Using hollow-bore needles can also increase the risk of a sharps injury. So can certain procedures, such as venepuncture and intra-vascular cannulation. Anyone working in health care should understand how to control the risk of these infections.
How to Reduce the Risk of Sharps Injuries
Whether you’re at a high risk of a sharps injury or not, you should know how to reduce the risks of them. Having a good sharps injury protocol can help you know what to do when an injury happens.
But prevention is just as important. Then, you won’t have to follow the injury protocol as often, and you can protect everyone in your medical office.
Minimize Exposed Skin
While needles and blades can penetrate clothing, having too much exposed skin can increase your risk of a sharps injury. You should wear a good set of scrubs, and consider wearing an undershirt if your scrubs don’t have long sleeves.
Make sure you wear a pair of secure closed-toed shoes to protect your feet. And when working with infected patients, it’s especially important to wear gloves to protect your hands from exposure to the infection.
Whenever you work with a different patient, swap out your gloves for clean ones. Then, you won’t accidentally transmit the disease to others. You should also wash your hands often and avoid touching your face when working with patients.
Sanitize Sharps Regularly
Make sure you clean blades and other sharps that you plan to reuse. You should clean these items after every use to limit the chances of transmitting viruses to yourself or others.
Sanitize the sharps as soon as you can after using them. Then, you can keep them from sitting around after using them with an infected patient.
Handle Sharps Correctly
You should also know how to handle sharps correctly. Avoid grabbing needles by the sharper end as that can be dangerous if you grab it just the wrong way.
Consider wearing gloves any time you need to handle a sharp. That way, you can reduce your risk of infection simply from touching the sharp. While it won’t always prevent a sharps injury, it can help.
You should also carry sharps with the sharp side pointing down. Holding it sharp side down will protect your hands, so you can keep yourself safe.
Store and Dispose of Sharps Properly
Next, it’s important to store and dispose of sharps correctly. You shouldn’t just put a used sharp in the trash where it could penetrate the bag or fall out.
If you need to dispose of sharps, you should use a sturdy sharps container. That way, the sharp can’t get out, and you can keep it from getting near ordinary trash.
When storing sharps, you should also use a durable container. Then, if the container falls, the sharps will stay in the box. That is essential if you will be storing sharps where other people could potentially be at risk of an injury.
How to Treat a Sharps Injury
While reducing the risk of a sharps injury is important, you should also know how to treat them. That way, when one occurs, you know what steps to follow.
Everyone in your medical office should have a basic understanding of how to treat sharps injuries. Then, you won’t need one or two specific people to be available.
Consider what steps you can add to your office sharps injury protocol.
Hold It Under Running Water
The first thing to do after a sharps injury is to run water over the injury. This will encourage gentle bleeding, so you may be able to reduce the amount of the infection that gets into your bloodstream.
After you let the injury sit under water, wash it off carefully. Use plenty of soap on the wound to help clean it and the area around it. Keep the wound under water as you wash it to help flush the area.
When cleaning the wound, avoid scrubbing it. Instead, pat the wound to help clean it. Then, you can keep from moving the infection around.
Dry the Wound and Cover It
Next, you should remove the wound from the running water and pat it dry. Use a clean towel and get the wound as dry as you can. Then, you can use a waterproof plaster or dressing to cover the wound.
That way, you can let the wound heal and protect it from any other pathogens that may be in the air. If possible, try not to do any intense work, especially if the wound is large or makes it hard for you to use your hands.
While you may not always be able to leave work after an injury, you should take it easy. Ask your coworkers for help when working on certain tasks, and make sure all of you wear gloves and other protective equipment.
Get Medical Care
As soon as possible, you should seek medical care. Working in a hospital or medical office is excellent because someone in the office can probably help you.
If not, get to a doctor who can help you as soon as you can. That way, you can tell them about the situation and get prophylaxis. Prophylaxis refers to medications that can fight off infections.
Getting a medication now can help you prevent or reduce the chance of getting a serious infection from the injury. You should then monitor your symptoms for a few weeks to ensure that you stay healthy. If you get sick, try to take off work to avoid spreading any potential infection that you have.
Report the Injury
Lastly, you should report your sharps injury to your employer. Let them know you followed the right protocols for your office. Then, you can tell them what you may have been exposed to, what medication you’re taking, and any other important information.
Your employer may decide to have the office participate in more training on bloodborne pathogens and other issues. It can also help for everyone to refresh their memory on preventing and treating a sharps injury.
That way, you can keep others from having the same issue in the future.
Treating a Sharps Injury
Treating a sharps injury isn’t too different from treating any injury. However, there are some serious risks associated with sharps, such as hepatitis and HIV.
Luckily, you can take action to treat a sharps injury and prevent future injuries. That way, you can protect yourself, your colleagues, and your patients.
Do you need training on dealing with pathogens or treating injuries? Enroll in our courses today.