Unnao HIV case: What are the health hazards associated with syringe sharing?

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Sharing a needle or syringe to inject any type of substance - such as steroids, hormones or silicone - puts you at a higher risk of various health hazards, including human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). The recent Unnao HIV case clearly indicates that there is an alarming rise in the number of people involving in criminal behaviours, such as reusing disposable needles and syringes, in the country. It was found that more than 40 persons in Unnao district in Uttar Pradesh were infected with HIV due to repeated use of syringes by a quack, who was arrested on Wednesday.

According to a 2012 study done by the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, about 12% of HIV infections in India are associated with unsafe injection practices. The same study, which was published in the Indian Journal of Community Medicine, revealed that an estimated 46% of hepatitis B cases and 38% of hepatitis C cases in India spread through the reuse of needles and syringes.

What infections can used needles pass on?

Infections that used needles and sharps may include -

  • Human immunodeficiency virus
  • Hepatitis B
  • Hepatitis C

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), says the NHS Choices. The fact that needle sharing greatly increases an individual's risk of infections is because used needles or syringes may contain blood with the viruses that may contaminate it. For instance, a needle that has been used by someone living with HIV can still contain blood with the virus in it after the injection. And if you use the same needle, there's a high chance of injecting the infected blood directly into your bloodstream, thereby increasing your risk of getting or transmitting bloodborne infections, such as HIV, hepatitis B and C.

But, sharing needles and syringes is not the only risk. One should also avoid sharing other injecting equipment. Also, use a new or disinfected container and a new filter each time you prepare drugs.

However, if a person injures himself/herself with a used needle at work, they must report the incident to their supervisor immediately. There may be procedures in place they need to follow.

The NHS Choices advises that in case you injure yourself with a used needle at work, you must report the incident to your supervisor immediately as there may be procedures in place you need to follow. People at increased risk of needle-stick injuries because of their job may also need to take other preventative measures.

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