Reused syringes causes infection control breach in New Jersey

Lauren Lollini is a patient safety advocate who has been integral in changing laws to keep patients safe as well as a member of the Drug Diversion Prevention Committee.
Lauren Lollini is a patient safety advocate who has been integral in changing laws to keep patients safe as well as a member of the Drug Diversion Prevention Committee.

Last week, reports of a nurse administering flu shots to 67 employees in New Jersey was found to be reusing syringes. While the risk for transmission appears to be low in this incident, it is yet another reminder about how easy the episode of exposure for an infectious disease can be. One shortcut taken either to save time or money can put patients at risk for HIV, Hepatitis B or C.

More than 150,000 patients have been told, over the last 10 years, they needed to get tested following a syringe misuse to include syringe reuse. Despite the protocols put into effect by the CDC, we continue to hear stories of patients put into harm’s way.

The One and Only Campaign, a public health campaign which raises awareness among patient and healthcare providers preaches “One Needle, One Syringe, Only One Time” for each and every injection. They have distributed their vaccine protocols to include trying to use pre-filled syringes when possible. The campaign also suggests not to draw up vaccines in advance and to have the person drawing up the vaccine be the one to administer it.

All of this appears to be basic common sense, yet it needs to be a point of re-education even among the most experienced healthcare worker. In New Jersey, while the needle was not reused, simply the syringe, just as much damage might have occurred. In this busy flu shot season, with healthcare workers taxed to their limit, it might be placed on the patient to ask the right questions. It is as simple as asking if that is a new needle and syringe prior to injection and watching them draw up the medication.

I am reminded of my daughter a couple of years ago. Having heard the story of my Hepatitis C infection by a tainted needle, she was not shy when she asked the healthcare worker preparing her flu shot whether she was using a new needle or not. She was 5 years old at the time and the technician looked at me with a look of confusion and told me “yes, the needle had just been opened prior to drawing up the flu shot” to which I replied, “Tell her, she is the one who asked.”

Make sure you are the one who asks!

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