B.C. case highlights health risk

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(Illustration by Hana Shafi / Ryersonian Staff)

Picture this: an HIV-positive nurse gives a shot to a six-year-old girl. The girl flinches and the needle goes through her skin, pricking the nurse as well. While extracting the syringe, both the nurse and girl’s blood exchange, causing a possibility of HIV transmission. This tragic accident happened last week to a girl in British Columbia.

Some Canadians choose not to get vaccinated because of side-effects ranging from fever to vomiting. It has also been controversially linked to causing autism. However, a lesser-known repercussion is exposure to blood-borne pathogens, like HIV. The girl is being monitored bi-weekly for possible transmission and the College of Registered Nurses B.C., is investigating the matter.

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a virus that affects the immune system, leaving the body vulnerable to illness and disease. The body’s inability to fight the virus can lead to full blown acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS).

On average, fewer than 3,000 HIV-positive test results have been reported annually since 1985 in Canada. According to Public Health Agency Canada, only 238 cases were documented in B.C. in 2012.

The agency states five different ways of transmission, including shared needles and “occupational exposure in health-care settings.” People who are tested as HIV-positive are recommended to report their status to their doctor and dentist.

Standard medical protocol includes followup tests in any instance where health workers or patients are exposed to bodily fluids like blood. Health-care workers must disclose their HIV-positive status on ethical grounds to their employers, according to the Canadian Medical Association (CMA). It’s still not known whether the nurse was aware of his or her HIV status before the internal investigation.

They may be limited from working on invasive procedures and given alternative placements. Only four international cases have been documented where HIV transmission occurred between a health-care worker and patient.

The CMA does not exclude HIV-positive nurses from performing procedures like booster shots, because of the low risk of transmission.
“In this case she was doing her job by wearing gloves,” says a nursing colleague and Ryerson graduate who wishes to stay anonymous.
“And it goes the same way if the child was HIV-positive and she poked the kid and then herself she would be exposed. So she is at the equal amount of danger as the patient.”

The nursing colleague adds that needle pricks are common in the medical field. “Needle-stick injuries are a reality of daily nursing life. It’s kind of equivalent to a paper cut. You can be as careful as possible but at some point you will get poked.”

Health-care workers should be allowed to work regardless of their health status. However, the CMA should restrict HIV-positive nurses from giving vaccinations. Because despite it being rare and low-risk, the chances are still too high. One patient in a million is one too many.

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