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Medical News

Working in Health Care Can Be Risky, Study Hints

December 8, 2008

Health care workers are more likely to die of blood-borne infections and related illnesses than people in other occupations, according to a new CDC study. However, the researchers warned that previous studies suggest most were non-occupational exposures.

Needle sticks and other accidents on the job can expose health workers to infections such as HIV, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C. And male health care workers have been found to be at increased risk of HIV and viral hepatitis, according to previous research by Drs. Sara E. Luckhaupt and Geoffrey M. Calvert of CDC's National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). In the current case-control study, they assessed mortality risk from blood-borne infections and their sequelae among health care workers, based on 1984-2004 data from the National Occupational Mortality Surveillance system.

Male health care workers were more than twice as likely to die from HIV and had nearly double the mortality from hepatitis B, researchers found. Deaths from hepatitis C and cirrhosis were also somewhat more likely among male health care workers. For female health workers, only death from hepatitis C was more frequent.

Based on occupation, male nurses had the highest risk of HIV and hepatitis B mortality. However, female nurses were 31 percent less likely to die of HIV than women not in health care.

"There is evidence that over the past 20 to 25 years, health care workers have been more likely to die of these kinds of infections than other workers are," said Luckhaupt. "What we can't say is how much of this is occupational exposure and how much is non-occupational exposure, so it's important to think about both."

"The greatest limitation to our study was that information was not available on possible confounding factors such as sexual risk behaviors, history of blood transfusions, intravenous drug use, and alcohol use," wrote the authors. "Targeted interventions to decrease the risk of blood-borne pathogens among health care workers may need to be gender-specific," they concluded.

The full report, "Deaths Due to Blood-Borne Infections and Their Sequelae Among Health Care Workers," was published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine (2008;51(11):812-824).

Back to other news for December 2008

Adapted from:
11.19.2008; Anne Harding

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
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