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What Happen if You Reuse Needles and Syringes

reusing syringes and needles

Possible reason for reusing syringes and needles

Medical staff and patients could explain why they reuse their hypodermic needles, syringes, and IV tubing: to save on expenses.1,2,3 This practice poses dangers and risks, as enumerated in the following sections. The negative consequences outweigh the monetary savings patients and healthcare providers expect to reap from reusing their hypodermic needles, syringes, and IV tubing.

Risks of reusing needles and syringes

Reusing syringes and needles will have these risks including the spread of infections and transmission, inflicting injuries, and inflicting pain.

Spread of infections and transmission

Based on the study in India, approximately 46% of hepatitis B and 38% of hepatitis C cases spread because of reusing needles and syringes. Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection, a fatal and life-threatening disease, can also be transmitted from one patient to another if health personnel reuse the hypodermic needles.1 More often than not, reusing needles or syringes will cause skin infections. However, this simple medical problem may progress into an abscess-like lesion and then lead to systemic blood infections, which could cause deaths among patients afflicted with it.2

The medical complications caused by reusing hypodermic needles and syringes are not as simple as they initially appear to be. As the medical community allows this practice to continue, it could afflict more patients because there are two pathways that the infections could be transmitted. As reported in the journal publication titled “Patient Notification Events Due to Syringe Reuse and Mishandling of Injectable Medications by Health Care Personnel—United States, 2012-2018: Summary and Recommended Actions for Prevention and Response” and written by Melissa K. Schaefer et al., the transmission of infections could be classified and described as (1) direct, and (2) indirect pathways.3

In the direct pathway, healthcare providers reused needles and syringes contaminated with disease-causing microorganisms, like bacteria, from one patient to another. This practice causes transmission of infections. In the indirect pathway, healthcare personnel reused contaminated needles and syringes to extract medications from the multi-dose vial. This practice contaminates the vial that when health staff get medications in succeeding extractions, they inevitably carry and transmit the infections to other patients. The indirect pathway is more troublesome because more patients will receive and contract the diseases.3

Inflicting injuries

In the same study in India, reusing syringe needles caused lipo hypertrophy (enlargement of the structure due to fats) and hematomas (enlargement of the structure due to bleeding).1

Inflicting pain

Some recipients of reused syringe needles, more than 54% of the time, complained of pain at the site of injection. The tip of the needle that has become dull due to repeated use causes the pain. Thus, these patients changed their syringe needles to relieve themselves of the painful experience.1

Recommendations of the scientific community

Always use new syringes and hypodermic needles

Medical personnel need to use new and sterile hypodermic needles and syringes all the time to prevent the spread of fatal diseases, such as hepatitis C and B and HIV.1 Check the types of syringe

Replace the current needle and syringe if receiving multiple medications

If an individual has been receiving several medications from injections, always replace the currently used syringe and hypodermic needles with new ones after each use. This practice will prevent the spread of disease-causing microorganisms and will prevent the contamination of your medications.1

Healthcare providers must never reuse needles and syringes 

Healthcare providers, such as doctors, nurses, and anyone administering injections, should refrain from reusing syringes and needles from one patient to another or withdrawing medicine from a vial. Used needles or syringes must be discarded.4

Auditing of healthcare personnel

The paper of Schaefer et al. suggested that health staff involved in injecting medications to patients must undergo regular and periodic auditing. Supervisors need to determine and find out if unsafe injection practices, such as reusing syringes and needles, have taken place in their facility. If so, should such practice be investigated and stopped with dispatch and follow-up patients who could have contracted the infections? These patients must be informed that they could have contracted an infection, thus necessitating re-consultation in their hospitals.3

Designing and manufacturing auto disable syringes and protective devices 

The World Health Organization (WHO), aware of the unsafe injection practices in most health facilities, urges device manufacturers to design and manufacture auto disable syringes and needles. This proposal calls for the manufacture of one-use injecting devices. It means that after the first use, the device self-destructs and becomes unserviceable. The model can be designed such that when the user pulls back the plunger after the first injection, a weak spot in the plunger causes it to break, thus ending its service. The WHO also urges manufacturing companies to design devices that would protect health workers from accidental needle injuries.5

Reducing the number of injections

The WHO noted that there had been a large number of injections administered in the whole world. According to WHO, health personnel administer 16 billion injections annually: 5% of injections are for immunizing children and adults, and another 5% are for blood transfusions and injectable contraceptives. The remaining 90% include various medicines injected into the skin or muscles. The WHO invites drug manufacturers and the pharmaceutical industries to produce and make oral replacements for these injectable drugs so that medical staff can considerably reduce their number of injections.5

Gravity and extent of the problem

Medical staff and health managers cannot ignore the medical complications brought about by the rising occurrences of unsafe injections for a long time. In a 2014 study sponsored by the WHO, 1.7 million people contracted hepatitis B, 315,000 people got hepatitis C, and around 33,800 had HIV as a result of reusing syringes and needles.5 Without a doubt, these figures will grow in geometric progression if health agencies fail to implement intervention measures. The WHO, the health agency spearheads intervention measures, has addressed the problem. As reported in this journal, the WHO stated some proposals to curb the rising problem. However, local health agencies worldwide and industries involved in designing and developing medical devices and drugs must also take action. 

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