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Needle-stick injuries are where you have been hurt by any needle used on someone which could then potentially pass an infection on to you, or someone else. Sharps injuries are basically the same but caused by other medical and sharps which can include scales, lancets, broken glass or equipment.

Getting hurt by sharps that have not been in contact with someone else, causes pain and bleeding and in some cases, it can cause other injuries depending on how the body has been cut. This alone needs to be avoided by correct handling and disposal.

When the sharp has been used on someone then it cuts someone else, the hazard is much higher as body fluids can then effectively be injected into the body and passed into the bloodstream infecting that person.

Potentially hazardous needle sticks and sharps can be found in many industry sectors including, healthcare, dentists, tattoo, beauty and other sectors like breakdown recovery of vehicles, cleaning companies, hotels and much more. Anywhere illegal drug use has happened and the needles left lying around are also a risk.

If you pierce or puncture your skin with a used needle, follow this first aid advice immediately:

  • Encourage the wound to bleed, ideally by holding it under running water
  • Wash the wound using running water and plenty of soap
  • Don't scrub the wound while you’re washing it
  • Don’t suck the wound
  • Dry the wound and cover it with a waterproof plaster or dressing

You should also seek urgent medical advice by going to the nearest accident and emergency (A&E) department, or contact your employer’s Occupational Health service if you injure yourself at work.

The healthcare professional treating you, will assess the risks to your health and ask about your injury and conduct tests like blood tests and give you advice on what the next stages are. If it is possible and with consent, the healthcare professional may also test the persons blood that was on the needle stick or sharp.

If your healthcare professional thinks you’re at low risk of infection, you may not need any treatment but if the risk is higher you may need to have antibiotic treatment, vaccination against hepatitis B or treatment to prevent HIV. If there’s a high risk of infection with HIV, your healthcare professional may consider a treatment called post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP).