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Home News centre National Press Releases 2012 Press Releases ›  Challenges still to be met in reducing occupational exposures to bloodborne viruses

Challenges still to be met in reducing occupational exposures to bloodborne viruses

7 December 2012

There were 541 reports of needle stick injuries that exposed healthcare workers to patients carrying bloodborne viruses in 2011, twice as many as a decade ago (2002) when 271 exposures were reported. The figures are published today in the Health Protection Agency’s fourth Eye of the Needle report, which includes occupational exposures to bloodborne viruses in healthcare workers reported by hospitals through the HPA’s enhanced surveillance system. These reports are only a fraction of needle stick injuries that would have occurred.

Since the previous report, which presented data until the end of 2007, a further 2,039 occupational exposures to known bloodborne virus carriers have been reported in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Most of these exposures occurred in the ward, theatre, Intensive Care Unit and Accident and Emergency setting, and a major proportion, such as those attributed to non-compliance with the safe handling of sharps and the disposal of clinical waste, were preventable.

Between 2008 and 2011 there were five patient to healthcare worker transmissions of hepatitis C virus in the UK (three in England and two in Scotland). The total number of reported hepatitis C cases in healthcare workers now stands at 20 (17 in England and three in Scotland). Eight of the cases in England occurred after the medical procedure, and most of them could have been prevented with adherence to standard infection control precautions for the safe handling and disposal of clinical waste. The last case of HIV infection in a healthcare worker, following occupational exposure, was in 1999.

Dr Fortune Ncube, an expert in bloodborne viruses at the HPA said “These documented cases of patient to healthcare worker hepatitis C infections are a stark reminder that occupational exposures can result in bloodborne virus infections.

“We are very concerned that healthcare workers are still being put at risk of these serious infections through occupational exposure, many of which are preventable. In line with the EU directive due to come into place in May 2013, the HPA recommends that all relevant healthcare services adopt safety engineered devices in place of conventional devices.

“Our report also re-emphasises the need for healthcare service providers to ensure that all healthcare professionals are adequately trained on how to prevent injuries, and that appropriate Occupational Health services are in place for the prompt, effective and appropriate management of such incidents.”


Notes to Editors

  1. The full report is now available from the HPA website.
  2. The data in this report include figures from England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Data from Scotland can be obtained from Health Protection Scotland.
  3. By May 2013 the UK will have implemented the provisions of The European Union Council Directive on the prevention of sharps injuries in the hospital and healthcare setting, into national legislation.
  4. More information for health professionals is available from the HPA website Bloodborne Viruses (BBVs) and Occupational Exposure Guidelines page.
  5. The Health Protection Agency is an independent UK organisation that was set up by the government in 2003 to protect the public from threats to their health from infectious diseases and environmental hazards. In April 2013 the Health Protection Agency will become part of a new organisation called Public Health England, an executive agency of the Department of Health. To find out more, visit our website: or follow us on Twitter @HPAuk.
  6. For more information please contact the national HPA press office at Colindale on 0208 327 7901 or email Out of hours the duty press officer can be contacted on 0208 200 4400.

Last reviewed: 7 December 2012