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Syringe Design Change Could Cut HIV Transmission

February 4, 2013

To prevent HIV and other blood-borne infections, syringes should never be shared. However, many injecting drug users ignore this warning, thus significantly contributing to the spread of HIV and other infectious diseases. In a recently released study, William A. Zule and several other researchers contend that changing the current syringe design could almost completely eliminate HIV transmission caused by needle sharing.

The researchers show that when the plunger on a syringe is fully depressed, a small amount of fluid remains in an area called the "dead space." Researchers believe that a new syringe design with less dead space can reduce the amount of blood trapped in the dead space by a factor of a thousand. In this way, they are reducing the amount of virus left to transmit the disease. The researchers used a simulation model, to illustrate that changing to low-dead-space syringes could reduce annual HIV infections acquired by sharing syringes to almost zero in eight years.

The researchers acknowledge that there are barriers to making the new syringes available worldwide, but they maintain that changing to low-dead-space syringes could reduce transmission of disease to injecting drug users and their families.

The study, "Are Major Reductions in New HIV Infections Possible With People Who Inject Drugs? The Case for Low Dead-Space Syringes in Highly Affected Countries," was published in the International Journal of Drug Policy (2013; 24 (1): 1-7).

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Excerpted from:
Scientific American
01.28.2013; Gretchen Cuda Kroen

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