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July 1992

Risk of Needlesticks and Occupational Exposures Among Residents and Medical Students

Author Affiliations

From the Department of Family Medicine, University of Southern California School of Medicine, Los Angeles (Drs O'Neill, Abbott, and Radecki), and the Long Beach (Calif) Memorial Medical Center Family Practice Residency (Dr Radecki). Dr O'Neill is now with the Children's Hospital and Medical Center, Seattle, Wash.

Arch Intern Med. 1992;152(7):1451-1456. doi:10.1001/archinte.1992.00400190077015

Problem.—  Occupational exposure to human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) disease is a problem of concern to all health care workers, especially those in large urban teaching hospitals with large numbers of HIV-positive patients.

Method.—  The self-reported incidence of needlesticks and other exposures to patients' blood and body fluids in 550 medical students and residents at the Los Angeles County—University of Southern California Medical Center during the 1989 through 1990 training year was studied by means of an anonymous survey.

Results.—  Seventy-one percent of respondents reported one or more needlesticks or other exposures during the training year. Surgical residents had a sixfold greater rate of occupational exposure compared with medicine residents and were significantly more likely to experience suture needlesticks, cuts, open wound contamination, and mucous membrane exposure. Medical students generally were at somewhat lower risk compared with residents, but had greater rates of hollow-needle puncture accidents. No trend was found for accidental exposure by level of residency training. The known HIV-positive exposure rate for students and residents was 9.5% per person per year. Only 9% of exposures were actually reported to the health center.

Conclusions.—  Based on the rate of exposures reported, numbers of known and estimated HIV-positive patients, and previously published HIV seroconversion rates, we would expect an annual rate of HIV seroconversion as a result of occupational exposures of between 27 and 46 per 100 000. This rate is similar to the leading cause of death in this age group—motor vehicle accidents—and is equivalent to one student or resident in this medical center seroconverting every 2 to 3 years. Although only a portion of accidental exposures are regarded as preventable, these data emphasize the importance of increased efforts toward improved education, prevention, and accessibility of protective equipment.(Arch Intern Med. 1992;152:1451-1456)

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