It seems a bit unfair to believe that even after taking all the necessary safety precautions, you might still be at risk of HIV from needle stick punctures or syringes. Because these types of injuries are a reality for those regularly in contact with needles, it’s worth exploring the actual HIV risk posed by infected needles, and whether extra measures need to be in place. First, a few fast facts.
● Depending on the size of the needle, syringe and blood contained in it, the HIV virus can survive up to 6 weeks in cool temperatures.
● Healthcare workers and drug users have a higher HIV needle stick infection rate than the general public.
● The more severe a needle stick injury is (nicked an artery or vein), the more likely it’ll be infected.
Up until 2013, the CDC recorded 58 needlestick HIV infections amongst health care workers. This figure stands at just 0.0023%, or about 1.15 health worker in 500. Since then, even more drastic precautionary measures have been implemented, and morever, the availability of Post Exposure Prophylaxis and better treatment for the virus means the blood of an infected person could have virtually undetectable levels of the virus. For the virus to be transmitted, the needle would have to have been in the vein of a patient with late stage infection, with a very high viral load – which isn’t very common these days.
Bottom line? Precautionary methods and advancement in medicine has made the risk of HIV from needle stick injuries extremely rare – even for workers in close contact with needles, and close to nil for the general public. Drug users still remain the highest at-risk-victims of needlestick infections, while needle exchange programs have severely cut down transmission risks amongst those who have medical conditions that require scheduled injections.
There’s no such thing as being overly cautious when dealing with the HIV virus, so the best policy has always been to adhere strictly to work precautionary measures and to treat all needles alike.