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Needle Injuries to Medical Students Often Go Unreported

A study calls attention to the danger if the patient being treated, or the student, has an infectious disease. Transcript of radio broadcast:

This is the VOA Special English Health Report.

For medical students, real experience begins not in a classroom but at a teaching hospital. These doctors in training are supervised. But sometimes accidents happen and the students get injured.

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For example, they might stick themselves with a needle while treating patients. Such needle sticks are common. But a recent study found that medical students often fail to report them. Failing to report an injury like this can be dangerous if a patient, or a medical worker, has an infectious disease.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, did the study. It appeared in the journal Academic Medicine.

It involved a survey answered by almost seven hundred surgeons in training. These surgical residents were at seventeen medical centers in the United States.

Almost sixty percent said they had suffered needle stick injuries when they were in medical school. Many said they were stuck more than once.

Yet nearly half of those whose most recent incident happened in school did not report it to an employee health office. If they had, they would have been tested to see if they needed treatment to prevent an infection like H.I.V. or hepatitis.

Most known cases of H.I.V. or hepatitis are reported, but other possible infections often are not.

Martin Makary was the lead author of the study. Doctor Makary says medical students who are stuck put themselves and others in danger from infectious diseases.

MARTIN MAKARY: "A needle that goes through the skin needs to be as sharp as possible because that's going to be associated with the easiest access, the more slick closure, and the less pain when somebody has, say their blood drawn or their skin closed."

Doctors in training may have to do hundreds of stitches in some cases to close the skin after an operation.

Doctor Makary told VOA's Melinda Smith that he supports using blunt tip needles which are considered safer.

MARTIN MAKARY: "This needle is still sharp enough to penetrate through body tissue. But it does have a blunt tip, so that if it accidentally goes into my finger, it's much less likely to perforate."

How common are needle sticks among health care workers? An estimated six hundred to eight hundred thousand of these and similar injuries are reported each year in the United States. But Doctor Makary says the real number may be much higher.

The study advises doctors to protect their hands by wearing two sets of gloves. It also urges hospitals to establish a special telephone number for medical workers and students to call if they are injured. The idea is for hospitals to send a clear message that there is no reason not to report this kind of accident.

And that's the VOA Special English Health Report. I'm Steve Ember.