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Exposure to blood borne infections in health care workers

Mallon, D.F., Shearwood, W., Mallal, S.A., French, M.A. and Dawkins, R.L. (1992) Exposure to blood borne infections in health care workers. Medical Journal of Australia, 157 (9). pp. 592-595.


To determine the incidence and nature of occupational exposures to blood and body fluids in health care workers.

332 reports of occupational exposure were analysed and are presented.

A major teaching hospital.

All staff at Royal Perth Hospital who reported an occupational exposure to blood or body fluids to the Department of Clinical Immunology between 1 January 1990 and 31 August 1991.

The rate of reported occupational exposure according to staff category, nature of exposure, HIV status of source patient, activity at the time of exposure and compliance with infection control measures.

332 reports from 323 health care workers were received, giving an overall incidence of 6.1 per 100 full time equivalent (FTE) years. Nursing staff (9.4/100 FTE years) and medical staff (9.0/100 FTE years) reported exposure more frequently than housekeeping staff (2.5/100 FTE years) or paramedical staff (2.3/100 FTE years) (P < 0.001). The rate of exposure to HIV antibody positive patients was only 0.24/100 FTE years. Needlestick or other blood contaminated sharps injuries accounted for 83.4% (277/332) of reports and failure to observe universal precautions for 34.0% of reports. Insertion and operation of parenteral lines (24%) and performing operations (15.4%) were the activities most often associated with occupational exposure. No occupationally acquired infections were observed. Despite the immediate availability of zidovudine, acceptance by health care workers with high risk occupational exposure was low (18.8%).

Occupational exposure to blood and body fluids is common among health care workers but most exposures confer a low risk of blood borne infection. The introduction of an occupational exposure assessment program has many benefits, including optimal management of injuries and acquisition of data on infection control measures, and may protect health care institutions from false claims for compensation.

Publication Type: Journal Article
Publisher: Australasian Medical Publishing Company
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