Definition

Being exposed to sharps (needles) or body fluids means that another person's blood or other body fluid touches your body. Exposure may occur after a needlestick or sharps injury. It can also occur when blood or other body fluid touches your skin, eyes, mouth, or other mucosal surface.

Exposure can put you at risk of infection.

What to do

After a needlestick or cut exposure, wash the area with soap and water. For a splash exposure to the nose, mouth, or skin, flush with water. If exposure occurs to the eyes, irrigate with clean water, saline, or sterile irrigant.

Report the exposure right away to your supervisor or the person in charge. DO NOT decide on your own whether you need more care.

Your workplace will have a policy about what steps you should take after being exposed. Often, there is a nurse or another health care provider who is the expert on what to do. You will likely need lab tests, medicine, or a vaccine right away. DO NOT delay telling someone after you have been exposed.

You will need to report:

  • How the needlestick or fluid exposure occurred
  • What type of needle or instrument you were exposed to
  • What fluid you were exposed to (such as blood, stool, saliva, or other body fluid)
  • How long the fluid was on your body
  • How much fluid there was
  • Whether there was blood from the person visible on the needle or instrument
  • Whether any blood or fluid was injected into you
  • Whether the fluid touched an open area on your skin
  • Where on your body the exposure was (such as skin, mucous membrane, eyes, mouth, or somewhere else)
  • Whether the person has hepatitis, HIV, or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)

Risk of Illness

After exposure, there is a risk you may become infected with germs. These may include:

Most of the time, the risk of becoming infected after exposure is low. But you need to report any exposure right away. DO NOT wait.

References

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases, Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion. Workbook for designing, implementing, and evaluating a sharps injury prevention program. www.cdc.gov/sharpssafety/pdf/sharpsworkbook_2008.pdf. Accessed February 21, 2018.

Sultan B, Benn P, Waters L. Current perspectives in HIV post-exposure prophylaxis. HIV AIDS (Auckl). 2014;6:147-158. PMID: 25368534 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25368534.

Wells JT, Perrillo R. Hepatitis B. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger and Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease: Pathophysiology/Diagnosis/Management. 10th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 79.

Version Info

  • Last reviewed on 11/20/2017
  • Laura J. Martin, MD, MPH, ABIM Board Certified in Internal Medicine and Hospice and Palliative Medicine, Atlanta, GA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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