Poor sharps safety at China hospital sees five infected with HIV

Thursday February 09 2017

Poor needle safety and hygiene practices at a hospital in China have resulted in five people being diagnosed with the potentially life-threatening blood-borne infection HIV.

Chinese health authorities were alerted last month that a medical worker at the Zhejiang Provincial Hospital of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Hangzhou reused hypodermic needles on multiple patients, which resulted in five contracting HIV.

However, the actual number of individuals infected with the virus may be much higher, as not all of those treated at the clinic have undergone tests for the disease.

Needles are often used in traditional Chinese medicine practices such as acupuncture, but best practice sharps safety standards need to be followed at all times to prevent needlestick injuries or the cross contamination of blood occurring.

The member of staff in question failed to follow the guidelines the hospital had in place for disposing of used needles after just one use and is consequently facing a criminal investigation, while five officials at the Zhejiang Provincial Hospital have been sacked over the scandal.

If proper needle safety standards had been followed, however, there would have been no need for any of these infections or dismissals, meaning this story serves to emphasise the importance of the correct methods of sharps disposal.

Traces of HIV can be left on needles that have punctured the skin of patients with the disease, which means that reusing them on other individuals can result in the illness being passed from person to person, putting both the health of the patient and the healthcare worker in a position of serious risk.

Instead, fresh, unbroken needles need to be used for every patient that is treated, whether this is for an acupuncture procedure or for administering a preventative vaccine, in order to prevent the cross contamination of blood or sharps injuries taking place.

In addition, specialist sharps safety devices are available that can prevent a needle from being used more than once or if it is broken, helping to lower these risks even further.

Needles also need to be disposed of correctly and all healthcare facilities should have designated bins for discarding them into to prevent further sharps injuries from occurring.