What infections can used needles or sharps pass on?

Infections that used needles and sharps can pass on to other people include: 

  • hepatitis B 
  • hepatitis C 
  • human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)  

Although rare, there is also a small risk of other infections being transmitted via contaminated blood, such as cytomegalovirus (CMV) and Epstein-Barr virus (EBV).

For immediate first aid advice if you’ve injured yourself, see What should I do if I injure myself with a used needle? 

Needles and sharps

Once someone has used a needle, viruses in their blood may contaminate it. This includes needles used to inject illegal drugs. 

Sharps can include other medical supplies, such as syringes, scalpels and lancets, and glass from broken equipment. Blood can also contaminate these. 

Injuries from needles used in medical procedures are sometimes called needle-stick or sharps injuries.

Needle-stick injuries in the UK

At least four UK healthcare workers are known to have died following occupationally acquired HIV infection. By 1999, another healthcare worker was known to have been infected.

Between 1996 and 2009, the Health Protection Agency received reports of 17 healthcare workers who had been infected with hepatitis C virus due to occupational exposure.

Needle-stick and sharps injuries account for 17% of accidents to NHS staff and are the second most common cause of injury, behind moving and handling of patients, at 18%.

People at increased risk

Some people have an increased risk of needle-stick injuries as a result of their job. These include:

  • nurses
  • doctors
  • surgeons
  • dentists
  • dental nurses
  • plebotomists  
  • hygienists 
  • laboratory technicians
  • the police
  • prison and probation services
  • customs and excise
  • social workers
  • funeral workers
  • piercers and tattooists 
  • building and demolition workers

If you injure yourself with a used needle at work, report the incident to your supervisor or manager immediately. There may be procedures in place you need to follow.

If you’re at increased risk of needle-stick injuries because of your job, you may also need to take other preventative measures. For example, you may need to have a hepatitis B vaccination.

Support after an injury

If you’ve received treatment for a needle-stick injury, you may need some support. For example, counselling may help with any stress the injury has caused. Your employer’s occupational health service can advise you on sick leave.


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