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4 year olds contact with contaminated needle in Doctor's office
Jul 3, 2000

My 4 year old reached his hand into a large UNCOVERED container used to dispose of contaminated needles at a allergy doctor's office(stored on the floor). I was completing the chart and unaware of his activity. When I looked up he was holding a used uncapped needle in his hand. I can't say with certainty he was not stuck although I don't think he was. The doctor at this office claims that the aids virus dies almost instantly when exposed to air and therefore he is not at risk in this situation. I have never heard this and want to know if this is true.

I would also like to warn other parents of this risk when going to a doctors office. The thought of this happening or being a risk never occurred to me as I am sure it hasn't to other parents.

Response from Dr. Luzuriaga

Needlestick injuries to children from inappropriately discarded needles are unfortunately not uncommon. Of course, the risk of transmission of HIV from a needle depends on whether the needle was previously used by an HIV-infected person. Even if the needle was used by an infected person, the risk of infection is dependent on many factors including the amount of blood or plasma in the syringe/needle, the size and nature of the exposure (for example, larger needles may deliver more blood), etc. The infectivity of any HIV in the syringe and needle does diminish over time outside the body. Because the situations are often complex, we recommend immediate evaluation by a pediatric HIV expert whenever a needlestick injury occurs. They can then determine the potential risk and whether they would recommend antivirals to prevent HIV infection. Since other infections (e.g., hepatitis) can also be passed through needlesticks, we also recommend evaluation and consideration of preventive measures for these infections.

Of course, prevention is the best measure and proper needle disposal by adults is important. This includes disposing all used needles in closed boxes in a location that is inaccessible to young children.

Katherine Luzuriaga, M.D.


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