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close this bookHIV in Pregnancy: A Review (UNAIDS, 1999, 67 p.)
close this folderRisks of needlestick injuries
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View the documentManagement of needlestick injuries and other accidental blood exposure

Management of needlestick injuries and other accidental blood exposure

There is evidence that the risk of infection is reduced by the use of post exposure prophylaxis with anti-retroviral drugs, by as much as 79%400. The management of needlestick injuries should be according to local guidelines and antiretroviral drugs should be used for significant injury, if available in the country. Recent guidelines have set out recommendations for the use of antiretrovirals in these cases 379, 401, 402, 403, 404, 405.

First aid treatment

First aid measures should be undertaken as soon as possible after injury. These should include decontamination of the exposure site as soon as possible, allowing a needlestick injury or cut to bleed, washing the area with chlorhexidine or other antiseptic and decontaminating exposed mucosa or conjunctivae by vigorous flushing with water.

Assessment of risk following exposure

A clinical assessment should be made about the level of risk following exposure. This is based upon the following factors:


Puncture: type of needle [hollow or solid]

depth of penetration
volume of blood thought to have been injected

Mucosal contamination
Contamination of non intact skin


Blood, blood products, body fluids, amniotic fluid, semen and vaginal secretions are associated with transmission of HIV, while stool and urine are not


Clinical condition or available laboratory results such as viral load

Counselling and testing of the source patient

HIV testing should be offered to all source patients, with their informed consent. Where such consent is not available (for example in a comatose or anaesthetized patient), this consent should be obtained from a relative or senior medical staff member. Where the source patient does not wish to know the HIV result, it may be acceptable to offer to take blood for the test (for the protection of the health care worker), without disclosing the result to the source patient. In practice, very few patients refuse consent and most are extremely concerned about health worker risk.

Counselling and testing of the health worker

A baseline HIV test is required for the management of the health worker and in case of a later claim for compensation. If the health worker has not been immunized for Hepatitis B, a test for HBV should also be undertaken at this time.

Follow-up tests should be done at six weeks, three months and six months. PCR testing may provide an earlier result, if available, which can reduce the stress of waiting for many months for a test result for seroconversion.

The injured staff member should receive follow-up counselling at any stage during the six months that this is required. Counselling should include advice to practise safe sex, to avoid blood donation and to consider delaying pregnancy for six months, if this had been planned.

Post exposure prophylaxis

Post-exposure drug prophylaxis should take into account the type and source of the injury and is not recommended for superficial needlestick injuries or cutaneous exposure. For deeper injuries or lacerations, the use of post exposure prophylaxis should be considered, and treatment started as soon as possible after the injury, with the first dose of ZDV ideally taken within two hours402.

Combination therapy, such as ZDV and 3TC (lamivudine), is currently recommended402,403,404. The addition of a protease inhibitor is recommended for deep exposures in the guidelines of Canada and the USA402,403. Where viral drug resistance is less common, this may not be as necessary. The decision to use post exposure prophylaxis must be taken by the injured party, after discussion of the benefits and risks.