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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:

  • After a needle stick or sharps injury
  • 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 you have been exposed, wash the area with soap and water.

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. So do not delay telling someone 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 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

Bader MS, McKinsey DS. Postexposure prophylaxis for common infectious diseases. Am Fam Physician. 2013;88:25-32.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases, Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion. Workbook for designing, implementing, and evaluating a sharps injury prevention program. Updated 2008. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/sharpssafety/pdf/sharpsworkbook_2008.pdf. Accessed February 20, 2014.

Chin RL. Postexposure prophylaxis for HIV. Emerg Med Clin N Am. 2010;28:421-429.

U.S. Public Health Service. Updated U.S. Public Health Service guidelines for the management of occupational exposures to HBV, HCV, and HIV and recommendations for postexposure prophylaxis. MMWR Recomm Rep. 2001;50:1-52.

Updated: 2/3/2014

Jatin M. Vyas, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor in Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Assistant in Medicine, Division of Infectious Disease, Department of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.


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