Needlestick Injuries, psychological trauma and PTSD

Advice and assistance from Cohen Cramer

Needlestick injuries: psychological trauma claims. If you have a needlestick injury, whether it was from a discarded hypodermic, insulin tester or other forms of sharp the chances are that, in the absence of infection of by a blood-borne virus (BBV) the physical injury will be slight with no more than a spot of blood to indicate the puncture spot.

The mental injury however can be substantial with the injured party suffering stress, anxiety, and worry. This is natural and part of the bodies’ reaction to the possibility of harm or infection. The extent of the mental impact varies from person to person and there is no wrong or right way to react. Some may shrug it off as part of the everyday risk of existence whereas others may develop full-blown psychological conditions from adjustment disorder with anxiety and depression through to the more serious condition of post-traumatic stress disorder.

The extent of the stress and worry can be made worse by your own personal circumstances; couples and those with children may find relationships are strained due to fear of cross-infection and contamination

Whatever degree of stress and worry you suffer is entirely natural and is nothing to be ashamed of and you should seek any medical assistance that you think is appropriate. Ask your doctor or occupational health officer as to what treatment is suitable and available.

If you have suffered a mental injury as a result of a needlestick injury then you are entitled to claim compensation and Gartons Solicitors can help you claim the compensation you deserve.

We can deal with your claim on a No Win-No Fee basis so if your claim fails it won’t cost you a penny for the work we have done on your behalf.

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Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from needlestick injury

The emotional cost to the worker is not dependant entirely on the acquisition of the disease. As a period of time must elapse before post-exposure follow-up can indicate disease status, uncertainty can lead to significant stress for the worker.

The 1995 study by Reutter and Northcott qualitatively assessed (using a grounded theory approach) how nurses cope with the risk of acquiring HIV infection while caring for persons with AIDS.

The study found that nurses coping efforts after exposure were grouped into four categories:

  • minimising the effect of exposure
  • reducing a sense of vulnerability
  • selective disclosure to others
  • assigning meaning.

Nurses reported minimizing the physical effects of exposure through measures such as „bleeding? the needlestick injury and immersing the affected area in bleach solution.

Nurses reduced their sense of vulnerability by assessing the possibility of harm, avoiding situations that aroused fear, and confronting the decision for HIV testing.

Nurses limited their disclosure to co-workers to avoid rejection and to preserve professional self-esteem.

Disclosure to significant others was influenced primarily by the support nurses perceived they would receive.

Finally, nurses attempted to assign meaning to the exposure by determining why the incident occurred and by evaluating the implications it had on their lives.

Gershon  et al.  (2000) undertook a qualitative survey that included questions relating to the impact that an exposure incident had on their psychological well being and on their families.  These exposed health care workers reported  feelings of anxiety  (53%),  insomnia  (18%), depression  (13%), a loss of appetite  (10%),  sleepiness  (10%) and  frequently crying especially when they thought about the incident (10%). Similarly, Lee et al. found that 42% of nurses in their study reported feeling anxious, depressed, or stressed, in the  two weeks following a SIN injury.

The 2006 case report by Worthington et al. further highlights the psychological effect of contaminated sharps injuries. Describing two cases where occupational exposure to HIV followed needlestick injuries, the authors highlighted that the incidents resulted in the development of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Despite neither health care worker  seroconverting  to HIV positively, neither was able to return to work, and both needed ongoing psychiatric care for PTSD.

Source: A cross section of sharps, including needlestick injuries among NSW nurses in 2007, The University of Newcastle.