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After an exposure to sharps or body fluids

Being exposed to sharps (needles) or body fluids means that another person’s blood or other body fluid touches your body. Exposure may occur:

Exposure can put you at risk for infection.

What to Do

After you have been exposed, wash the area with soap and water.

Report the exposure right away to your supervisor or the person in charge. Never 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 one nurse or another health care provider who is the expert on what to do.

  • You may need lab tests, medicines, vaccines, or immunizations.
  • Sometimes you will quickly need medicines or vaccinations. Do not delay telling somebody after you have been exposed.

You will need to report:

  • How the needle stick 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 patient 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 patient has hepatitis, HIV, or MRSA

Risk of Illness

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

  • Hepatitis B or C virus (cause a liver infection)
  • HIV, the virus that causes AIDS
  • Bacteria such as staph

Most of the time, the risk of becoming infected after exposure is low. But you need to report all exposures right away. Do not wait.

Updated: 2/26/2012

David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.


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