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CDC HIV/AIDS/Viral Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update
National Health Service Staff Die After HIV Accidents

October 27, 2003
BBC News (10.27.03) - Monday, October 27, 2003

According to a report on needle-stick injuries written by the Health Protection Agency and presented to the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, four UK health workers have died after being injured with needles used on HIV patients. Nine more are living with HIV after being infected by such injuries while working with the National Health Service. The agency reported five cases in which HIV was definitely passed by needle- sticks; four of the workers have died.

There have been, since 1997, more than 1,600 cases in which health workers reported similar exposure to HIV or hepatitis B or C without any cases in which HIV developed as a result. This is due in part to the availability of powerful drug treatments that, if taken as soon as possible after exposure, may stop HIV from becoming established. But Sheelagh Brewer, an employment relations adviser at the Royal College of Nursing, said needle- stick injuries remain a major issue: "It is possible to improve safety - staff can be trained on the correct way to deal with sharp needles. In some cases, needles are simply left lying on beds or not put away in the correct containers. We would also like hospitals to consider safer needles, such as retractable needles, or self-blunting needles." Also favoring this position is Lisa Power, spokesperson for the Terrence Higgins Trust HIV charity. "We support the use of retractable needles and any other measures to improve the safety of injecting equipment. However, the health workers who died contracted the virus before the availability of post- exposure prophylaxis or PEP to NHS staff. PEP is a short course of antiretroviral treatment which can prevent HIV from taking hold in someone who knows they have been very recently exposed." There are no plans at present to offer HIV or hepatitis testing to the majority of health workers; RCN opposes such widespread testing, fearing it would stigmatize workers still able to care for patients.