Needle injuries led to disease risk at Winnipeg lab

Thursday February 02 2017

Sharps injuries involving contaminated needles may have resulted in potentially life-threatening diseases including, HIV, tuberculosis and the Ebola virus being transmitted from person to person at a Winnipeg lab.

CBC News reports a recent access to information request led to the discovery there were 14 cases of possible exposure to disease recorded at Winnipeg's National Microbiology Laboratory over a 22-month period between January 2015 and October 2016.

Incidents including needlestick injuries and broken sharps implements put 14 biomedical scientists at risk of exposure to serious illnesses such as HIV in this relatively short space of time, which raises the question of whether workers' health could have been better protected and these accidents avoided if better standards of sharps safety were followed.

Dr. Matthew Gilmour, scientific director-general of the National Microbiology Laboratory's Public Health Agency, emphasised no workers had been diagnosed with a blood-borne infection following a needle injury over the past two years, but this does not mean they will be lucky enough to avoid this in the future.

One incident that occurred at the lab saw a medical worker suffering a sharps injury after handling a needle without wearing puncture-resistant gloves, which highlights the importance of such protective clothing.

Meanwhile, another needlestick injury was experienced when a mouse involved in an experiment kicked the needle being used, leading it to puncture a scientist's hand.

The extent of the risks posed by each of these incidents highlights the importance of sterile, puncture-resistant gloves being worn at all time times when needles are being handled, while labs may also want to invest in more sharps safety devices such as specialist needle safety caps. These prevent a needle from being used if it is broken - whether by a mouse or a human, for example - stopping a sharps injury and subsequent blood contamination from occurring.

Dr. Gilmour commented: "No exposure at all is acceptable. We're always looking for improved personal protective equipment for the staff.

"Every time you have a new protocol it carries its own risk. Before you change that protocol, you have to think really hard because you might change it in a way that might actually make things more difficult."