Needle Sticks

Oh no, I got a needle stick!

Risk of infection.

In most cases the actual risk of transmission of a blood borne pathogen following a needle-stick is extremely low. The most commonly transmissible diseases of concern to the piercer and the recipient are the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), hepatitis C virus (HCV) and hepatitis B virus (HBV).

Hepatitis B: Of these HBV is the most transmissible, with a risk of infection following exposure of around 6-30%. (People that have achieved immunity after being covered with the hepatitis B vaccine are practically immune.)

Hepatitis C: Infection from HCV following a needle-stick is around 1.8%.

HIV: Risk of becoming infected with HIV is a mere 0.3%.

Of course the chance of transmission occurring is dependent of several factors including:

  • The viral load of the source person at the time of transmission.
  • The volume of infected blood transferred. 

Universal precautions:

Always observe universal precautions. If you practice nothing else, practice this: every single person you pierce is HIV positive, has Hepatitis, Syphilis, and MRSA. Never rely on someone telling you they have just been tested and they are clean.

Got that? Now protect yourself accordingly:

  • Wash your hands. Before and after any intervention.
  • Gloves without exception.
  • Needles should go directly from patient into sharps bin in one motion. Never leave a sharp laying around to take care of *in just a second*.
  • Never, ever try to re-sheath or re-cap a needle.
  • 200% attention when handling sharps.

Once bitten:

If you do experience a needle stick injury, immediately wash the site well with water. Squeezing or milking the site is of little benefit.

If the needle is still in the recipient DONT REMOVE IT Removing it will transfer your blood into the recipient. Get your coats and both go to A & E.

Remember, the risk of transmission is determined by the type of exposure rather than the recipients risk factors.

You and the recipient will probably both need blood taken for serological testing for hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg), and HIV as soon as possible.

Depending on your immunization status you may need to have a course of HBV vaccine and a dose of hep B immunoglobulin.

If a significant exposure to HIV has occurred, retroviral drug prophylaxis should be offered promptly. Use of such post exposure prophylaxis is not to be treated lightly and expert guidance should be sought.

Q. I would be too embarrassed to go to A & E what would I say?
A. A & E are used to staff getting needle sticks. As well as that they are used to seeing professional piercers and tattooists. They take this very seriously and will concentrate on your future health and not how this happened.
Q. Isn’t this spoiling the fun? I mean if its so dodgy then why do it ?
A. Every medic, pro piercer and tattooist in the land thinks about the risk of a needle stick and have planned appropriate action/precautions. Why would a play piercer be any different. Be honest with yourself. Would you really want to play with someone who never considered or took precautions against the risks?
Q. Why gloves? I mean a needle is going to go straight through a glove.
A. A glove will protect you from surface blood and protect the recipient from contaminants on your hands as well as any minor cuts. Research has shown that a puncture, by a needle through a latex glove and into the skin, regardless of the amount of blood on the needle will on average reduce it to just 0.064 micro litres. (Please see double Gloving)