In today’s world, there’s a host of silent pandemics hovering below the surface of Covid-19. Those are opioids and bloodborne illnesses, and the two go hand in hand.
With the excessive need for medical treatment due to the Covid crisis, along with the increased opioid use, more and more needles are being put into more and more hands. This makes the risk of needlesticks rise sharply, which can have a lot of complications.
Luckily, there is a lot you can do to protect yourself. Let’s talk about the risks of an accidental needlestick and how bloodborne pathogens training can help prevent them.
Who Is At Risk Of Needlesticks?
Theoretically, anybody is at risk of a needlestick in today’s opioid epidemic. The reason there are sharps deposit boxes everywhere is to prevent accidental sticking or people from using previously-used needles.
It’s also one of the reasons for needle exchange programs, which allow users to exchange their used needles for clean ones to prevent needle sharing and improper disposal.
The reason is that this can happen to anybody. Nobody is entirely safe from an accidental needlestick. If you’re carrying your garbage or moving someone else’s, anybody could have improperly disposed of a needle just by tossing it in the trash.
However, these are one in a million chances. There are people at much higher risk for being stuck with a needle, and you probably already know if you’re one of them. If you work around needles and syringes for any reason, you’re at a higher risk than most for an accident, especially if proper bloodborne pathogen procedures are not followed.
You don’t just have to be working in an operating room to be worried. If you’re working around diabetics, people struggling with addiction, or any other person that might be carrying around needles, your risk of exposure is also higher. Those risks are serious, too. Let’s talk about some of them.
Transmittable Diseases And Infections
A needle itself is unlikely to cause you serious damage. If you step on one or get stuck with one in the side, the needle is likely thin enough to not hurt you right away, but if there is a high amount of pain or bleeding, get medical help right away.
The thing to worry about is what may come after, as bloodborne illnesses can surprise you. Unlike airborne illnesses and many others, these diseases don’t often show their symptoms right away, making it harder to discover early. Here are some examples.
If we were to pick the scariest illness to catch from a needlestick, it is HIV, the virus that leads to AIDS. HIV has killed over a million people, and currently infects over 1.2 million Americans.
While it is thought of as an STD, HIV is transmittable solely through the blood and blood-based bodily fluids like semen or vaginal secretions, making the risk of transmission in a needlestick too high for comfort.
Luckily, HIV loses most of its effect after several hours when outside the body, which means that an old needle is not likely to infect you with it (though it is not impossible). However, a fresh needle would have a high chance of infection.
Hepatitis B or C. They are all completely different illnesses, but they are spread the same way.
Hepatitis B is a serious disease that often leads to liver complications, which leads to jaundice (yellowing of the skin or eyes). The risk for this is higher for those who use alcohol or other substances regularly.
Hepatitis C doesn’t show as many symptoms, and many cases show none. If you do have symptoms, they tend to be mild pain in the abdomen, nausea, and other common flu-like symptoms. It is not as lethal as its counterpart.
Treatments are available for these diseases, but there is no cure. Hepatitis B is known to have death rates in the high single digits and kill thousands of people every year. These diseases are more common than some others on this list, so this is definitely one to worry about.
Believe it or not, malaria is believed to have killed 1 out of every 3 humans who have ever lived, making it a stronghold for the number one greatest threat to humans throughout their history, with no close competitor.
Symptoms will likely come within a matter of a few weeks, and will likely include nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, fast heart rate, confusion, jaundice (because of the loss of red blood cells), and more.
While it is uncommon in the US, there are still a couple of thousand cases a year, making it something to worry about because of its lethality. While it is commonly associated with mosquitos, that is because of the blood transfer, making needlesticks another risk for it. It is caused by small parasites that infect your blood, and malaria, even in today’s world, is a death sentence for many, especially if it is not treated in time.
Antibiotics and antiparasitics can be used to treat the illness, and can actually be rather effective if the illness is discovered in a short amount of time. Symptoms may subside after a few weeks, but the disease can lay dormant in your body for up to a year.
Syphilis sounds like another STD we can just forget about, right? It’s not HIV, people have it all the time, and it’s just a rash, right? Wrong.
Syphilis comes in stages, and there are different strains of the virus that can cause serious complications. The first couple of stages will likely just be a rash and maybe some pain or itching. Other symptoms aren’t as common, but you could experience headaches, fatigue, weight loss, patchy hair loss, and more.
However, the later stages, which often come years later, can cause serious damage to the nerves, brain, eyes, or heart. This is a disease to take seriously, along with neurosyphilis, which will likely cause more serious damage to the nerves and brain, and there is no known cure for either strain.
This is a little less mild than the others, but relapses are likely to occur even after antibiotic treatment. Most people will experience abdominal pain, headache, anorexia, muscle or joint pain, and more.
People with weaker immune systems are likely to experience many more symptoms, however, and this disease does not have a cure.
What To Do If You’re Stuck
If you were stuck with a needle, again, get medical help if you are experiencing high amounts of pain or bleeding. Also, be sure to clean out the wound immediately. Doing so right away can at least limit your risk of a disease transmitting.
If bleeding does not slow down or if it increases after a few minutes of applying pressure with gauze, call 911 right away.
Schedule an appointment immediately with your doctor, and ask them when the appropriate time is to get tested for any variety of bloodborne infections. If the test results come back negative for all illnesses, be sure to schedule a follow-up appointment several months out to be safe. Catching these illnesses as early as possible is your best defense against their worst complications.
How Bloodborne Pathogens Training Can Help
If you’re working in a setting with a higher risk of a needlestick, including social work or volunteer work with the homeless, your best defense from a needlestick is the proper training.
In bloodborne pathogens training, you will be taught how to properly handle, sanitize, and dispose of needles, as well as how to protect yourself from any bloodborne risks elsewhere.
You will also be able to spread this information to the people who need it most. If you work with or know people suffering from opioid addiction, spreading the word about the proper disposal of needles and proper use of them can save countless lives.
Let’s face it, it isn’t just hospital workers or EMTs that are at risk. If you work retail, at a restaurant, or even with children, there is always a risk of someone getting a cut or an injury that results in exposure to blood. Should that event arise, the proper training can save your life.