Sharps injuries in UK health care: a review of injury rates, viral transmission and potential efficacy of safety devices.

Research paper by Alexander A Elder, Caron C Paterson

Indexed on: 27 Oct '06Published on: 27 Oct '06Published in: Occupational medicine (Oxford, England)


To review the literature on sharps injuries and occupational bloodborne virus transmission in health care in the UK and the worldwide evidence for injury prevention of sharps safety devices.Literature review by online database and Internet resource search.Twenty-four relevant publications were identified regarding UK reported sharps injury rates. UK studies showed as much as a 10-fold difference between injuries reported through standard reporting systems (0.78-5.15 per 100 person-years) and rates estimated from retrospective questionnaires of clinical populations (30-284 per 100 person-years). National surveillance data from England, Wales and Northern Ireland gives a rate of 1.43 known hepatitis C virus or human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) transmissions to health care workers per annum. When extrapolated, this suggests an approximate rate of 0.009 such viral transmissions per 1000 hospital beds per annum. Risk of infection from sources with no risk factors is extremely small (less than one in one million for HIV transmission based on Scottish data). Thirty-one studies on the efficacy of sharps safety devices showed evidence of a reduction in injuries, with the greatest reductions achieved by blunt suture needles and safety cannulae.Although injuries remain common, confirmed viral transmission in the UK has been relatively rare. The degree of under-reporting of sharps injuries may be as much as 10-fold. Safety-engineered devices are likely to be effective at injury reduction.