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Hospital Workers at Risk for Bloodborne Disease

Despite improvements in technology and strong federal guidelines rates of exposure to bloodborne diseases are still "unacceptably high" among hospital healthcare worker, researcher report.

Despite improvements in technology and strong federal guidelines designed to prevent exposure to bloodborne diseases such as HIV, rates of exposure are still "unacceptably high" among hospital healthcare workers, researchers report.

"Prevention of these events should be a high priority for all healthcare institutions," said Dr. Bradley N. Doebbeling, of the University of Iowa College of Medicine in Iowa City, and multicenter colleagues stress.

The researchers studied programs designed to cut the spread of bloodborne diseases in 153 hospitals in Iowa and Virginia.

Nearly one third of the hospitals offered new employees training on bloodborne pathogen exposure precautions only twice a year or less often. Current US government guidelines recommend training all new employees when they start employment.

The use of devices that can reduce the risk of nurses or doctors accidentally sticking themselves with an infected needle -- such as needle-less IV systems -- was also relatively inconsistent among the sites.

And 24-hour access to treatment that can prevent the disease immediately after exposure was not universal, the authors report in the February issue of Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology.

The investigators were "surprised" to find that "few physicians are receiving standard precautions training through the hospitals in which they work," said Doebbeling. "We would recommend that hospitals invest in protective devices when they appear to be safer, as many of them do ... (and) require standard precautions training for all healthcare personnel, including physicians."

In a related commentary, Dr. David K. Henderson, of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., suggested that hospitals "must invest ample resources in comprehensive programs that apply the principles of continuous improvement to the processes of care that place healthcare workers at risk for these exposures."

Henderson added, "Maintaining a safe workplace is a cornerstone of clinical quality."

by Virginia Sutcliffe

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