WHO calls for “smart” syringes following continued hepatitis and HIV infections from reuse

People can do their best to protect themselves from things like hepatitis and HIV by being responsible and aware, but when doctors reuse syringes, all efforts can fall by the wayside. Situations like this have prompted a global campaign from the World Health Organization this week. As NPR reported Tuesday, an 82-year-old celibate Buddhist abbot […]

People can do their best to protect themselves from things like hepatitis and HIV by being responsible and aware, but when doctors reuse syringes, all efforts can fall by the wayside.

Situations like this have prompted a global campaign from the World Health Organization this week.

As NPR reported Tuesday, an 82-year-old celibate Buddhist abbot from Cambodia was recently diagnosed with HIV because his doctor was reusing syringes which led to the infection of 272 people, including babies and children.

This horror story resonates around the world. More than 2 million people were infected in 2010 alone, according to the most recent World Health Organization research, with hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV because of injections with previously used syringes or needles. While data are not available for transmission of all diseases, unsafe needle practices could also put people at risk for bloodborne illnesses, such as Ebola and malaria, according to WHO.

The WHO is recommending that countries begin using “smart” syringes, which are designed to prevent reuse.

“With one injection, the new-style syringes disable themselves,” said Dr. Selma Khamassi, the head of the WHO team for injection safety. “Some have a metal clip that blocks the plunger and you cannot pull it back to give another injection. Some have a weak point, so if you try to pull it back, it breaks.”

With about 70 manufacturers beginning to make versions of the smart syringes, according to NPR, there is definite potential for a shift in these unfortunate situations, even for low-income countries.

The cost of traditional syringes without safety features is about 3 to 4 cents each; syringes that automatically disable themselves when used range from 4 to 8 cents each. “They are moving toward affordability. Once the demand increases, the price will decrease,” says Khamassi.

Regardless of cost, the problem with reusing syringes is happening in places that don’t have much of an excuse. Places like the U.S.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported more than 50 outbreaks in the U.S. since 2001 of hepatitis B and C as well as bloodborne diseases because health workers reused needles, syringes or vials designed for single use. In other instances of reuse, there was no transmission of disease but patients had to be notified for possible testing. Examples include a urology clinic in Nevada using the same needle for prostate biopsies on more than one patient; a pediatric clinic in Denver reusing syringes to administer flu vaccines; a pain clinic in Los Angeles reusing syringes that exposed patients to hepatitis C; and a health fair in New Mexico that reused finger stick devices to test for blood glucose levels.