Needlestick injuries can result in nurses experiencing sustained psychiatric trauma of a similar severity as being involved in a road accident, researchers have warned.
They compared the depression levels experienced by 17 needlestick injury patients referred to a psychiatric trauma clinic with 125 patients referred with non-needlestick related trauma.
They found the psychiatric disorders experienced by needlestick patients lasted for nine months on average and were similar to the other trauma patients in severity – with a major impact on work attendance, family relationships and sexual health.
The duration of symptoms was linked to the length of time the patient had to wait for blood test results, the authors said in the journal Occupational Medicine.
They highlighted the example of a 36-year-old accident and emergency worker who received a sharps injury while emptying a bin and only received the all-clear from blood tests six months later.
Lead author Ben Green, professor of postgraduate medical education and psychiatry at Chester University, said: “The chances of physical damage – infection and so on – are what are focused on by society, but these risks are in reality very small. The main health implication of needlestick incidents is probably psychiatric injury caused by fear and worry.”
Dr Richard Heron, president of the Society of Occupational Medicine, said: “We need to ensure that people have rapid access to post-exposure support – including psychological help if needed.”
New regulations on preventing sharps injuries are currently being introduced in order to comply with European Union directive 2010/32.
The UK has until 11 May to comply with the directive, which includes requiring the use of “safer sharps” – for example, with shields that cover the needle afer use – where “reasonably practicable to do so”.
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