Four health workers in Britain have died after being infected with HIV through hospital accidents involving needles. Nine others have also contracted the Aids virus after suffering similar injuries while working in hospitals, but are still alive.
The figures are in a report by the Health Protection Agency and passed to the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, which has been investigating the issue of needle injuries among NHS staff. It is the first time details of HIV infections from workplace accidents have been published.
The HPA found five definite cases before 1999 where health workers had been infected through injury at work. Four of the victims died. The cases include two nurses, one male, one female, who were infected in separate incidents after pricking their fingers on needles used on Aids patients. Three female healthcare workers were infected in similar ways. It is not known which of the five have died.
Experts have identified a further eight probable cases where health workers have been infected through workplace accidents.
The figures prompted calls for better provision of new, retractable needles, which reduce the risk of accidents for health staff. Sheelagh Brewer, an employment relations officer at the Royal College of Nursing, said: "A small but significant number of health workers have caught HIV from accidents at work and we are not doing enough to limit the risk. We want retractable needles to be used more widely."
Richard Bacon, a Conservative MP on the Public Accounts Committee, said: "The figures for needlestick injuries are stupendously high. One in three nurses has had such an injury. Safer needles ought to be used as much as possible." The report also revealed other cases. They included a woman who was infected in the 1980s after caring for a terminally ill neighbour who had the virus. She contracted it through small cuts on her hands, which were exposed to the bodily fluids.
In 1991, a man was infected at a wedding reception after he got into a fight and was cut and splashed with the blood of another guest who was HIV positive. A railway worker was infected after being covered with the blood and bodily fluids from the bodies of suicide victims, which he had been removing from a track.
In two separate incidents, a male nurse and a woman deliberately infected themselves by injecting with the blood of an HIV positive person. And another man was infected after being stabbed with a needle by two attackers.
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