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New innovation reduces spread of disease

Developments in safety needles are an important infection control measure, writes Annie May.

Each year in Australia at least 18,000 nurses and healthcare employees are injured by syringes and sharps. Each year in the US, more than 1000 healthcare workers contract potentially life threatening infections from accidental needlestick and sharps injuries.

It is a foreseeable, and preventable, hazard. Recently, an informal coalition of Australian nurses and health workers have united to raise awareness of the issue and call on the government to introduce consistent rules.

Australia, according to the coalition, trails the rest of the western world in taking concerted action. This includes the US, where healthcare workers use approximately eight billion needles each year. Before the introduction of “safe” devices, these workers suffered an estimated 800,000 injuries from accidental needle-sticks and other sharps annually, according to Medigard, an Australian company that specialises in retractable safety medical devices.

“The US introduced proactive measures in the attempt to reduce the incidence of needlestick injury by passing specific legislation through the Congress in 2001. This legislation requires companies to purchase and implement the use of alternative, safer medical devices,” says Dr Peter Clark, Medigard executive director.

Similar legislation has been enacted in Spain, Nigeria, and in most provinces of Canada. No such legislation exists in Australia, says Clark.

New developments in needles have the potential to significantly reduce the risk of injury and disease. There are a number of products on the global market, including Medigard’s safety blood collection device – which is being introduced to the US.

The device eliminates human contact with used needles, and according to Clarke, has the potential to reduce not only the incidence of needlestick injury, but the spread of up to 20 blood-borne diseases including Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and HIV/AIDS.

Included in the device is a retractable syringe featuring vacuum technology. “It operates as a normal syringe, but automatically retracts the needle from the person’s body using the vacuum in the plunger to draw the needle back. The needle is locked away safely ready for disposal,” says Clark.

In a trial, undertaken by 17 healthcare workers at four different medical centres on the east coast of America, a result of 100 per cent success rate for the syringe was achieved.

“There was a zero chance of having needlestick injury,” says Clark.

Another benefit of such a device, he says, is minimising aerosoling - a dangerous spray of fluid getting into the air when the needle is retracted.

“Whatever fluid is in a needle has to go somewhere. In our products, the vacuum in the plunger actually pulls the fluid back, reducing what goes into the atmosphere,” says Clark.

Medigard will continue to add to its product line with the development of its flashback needle – expected to be bundled with their blood collection device from 2012.

Clark says flashback needles allow health care workers immediate visual confirmation of a successful venipuncture.

“There is always the potential for injury when using needles and sharps, through both using inappropriate devices and misuse. However, new innovations can largely reduce this risk,” says Clark.

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