Surgeons are at the greatest risk of all health care providers of incurring a sharps injury, although most injuries can be considered preventable, according to a study published in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery (2013;131:784-791).

Jennifer F. Waljee, MD, from the University of Michigan Health System in Ann Arbor, and colleagues reviewed the scope of sharps injuries among surgeons, potential strategies for prevention, and health care policy designed to protect surgeons.

The researchers found that surgeons are at greatest risk of incurring a sharps injury of all health care providers, with about one-quarter of all needlestick injuries occurring in the operating room, and 59% occurring among surgeons. The probability of seroconversion varies based on the type of exposure, volume and concentration of inoculum, and health and immunogenicity of the health care worker. Fatigue and inexperience play critical roles in needlestick injuries, although the causes vary widely. The cost attributed to a single injury ranges from $71 to $4,838, and includes reporting procedures, laboratory testing, follow-up, and post-exposure prophylaxis. Most sharps injuries are preventable, and effective prevention strategies include engineered safety devices and sharps-handling guidelines. Since 1987, control measures have been in place, and these safety guidelines have subsequently been modified to protect health care workers. Employees should review safety precautions annually.

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“Although most surgeons are aware of the potential risks of occupational exposure, they are often not informed of current safety practices, advances in technology, and recent guidelines designed to protect clinicians from the infectious risk of sharps injuries,” the authors wrote.