Is Hepatitis C Transmission from Sharps Injuries More Likely in Kentucky

November 29, 2016

The transmission of hepatitis C is one of the major risk factors for healthcare workers who have suffered a sharps injury, with the risk arguably much higher in the state of Kentucky than anywhere else in the US.

According to data collated by STAT1, rates of hepatitis C are seven times higher in Kentucky than the average for the rest of the country, meaning anyone who suffers a needlestick injury is already at a heightened risk of contracting the blood-borne infection.

Meanwhile, a recent investigation led to the discovery that just 900 of Kentucky's 29,000 hepatitis C patients received drugs to help control the disease via Medicaid last year, which accounted for only five per cent of the total Medicaid budget allocated to the state.

As a result, thousands of patients are not in control of their condition - or perhaps more concerningly, are not aware of the extent to which their health is affected - meaning their own health and that of any medical professionals they come into contact with is at risk, should a sharps injury occur. In total, it is believed that between 2.7 million and 3.9 million people in the US have hepatitis C, but do not know they have it yet.

Hepatitis C is particularly prevalent among drug users, with the sharing of needles contributing to the fast spread of the disease. This means a lack of funding for hepatitis C medication in Kentucky and a lack of awareness about the dangers of the condition could be causing the potentially life-threatening illness to spread even further.

With this in mind, healthcare workers in Kentucky need to make sure they are exercising the utmost care when treating patients known or believed to have the hepatitis C virus present in their bloodstream to make sure no sharps injuries occur. Sterile, unbroken needles should be used for all injections that need to be administered, while fresh surgical gloves need to always be worn to prevent infected blood from touching the doctor or nurse's hands.

What's more, wearing a protective eye shield may be advisable when more invasive procedures are being carried out in order to prevent any blood spatters from entering the bloodstream via the eyes, as this can also lead to the disease's potentially deadly transmission.

STAT stated: "This state could be a case study in how hepatitis C affects other areas and what happens when demand for specialists, surveillance and treatment outstrip the ability of health systems to respond."

1 - Written by Andrew Joseph for STAT. Published on November 14th 2016