Imagine going to your doctor for what you thought would be a routine check-up only to be diagnosed with HIV. That is exactly what happened to a 74-year-old man in a Cambodian village last month. When the unidentified man’s test came back positive, he immediately spoke with family and friends and asked them to be tested as well. Within a few weeks, over 200 cases of HIV were diagnosed in the area, and the majority of these cases were connected to an unlicensed doctor in the town of Rhoka, where the 74-year-old and his family reside.
Since the discovery of the infections, the unlicensed doctor, identified by authorities as Yem Chrin, has been charged with murder and deliberately infecting individuals with HIV. Whether Chrin maliciously infected his patients is as yet unknown, but investigators have found evidence that the doctor re-used needles on multiple patients, leading to cross contamination and widespread infection.
At first, the vector of infection was a mystery. Given the wide variety of individuals infected, including children, the elderly, and two celibate Buddhist monks, investigators initially had some difficulty identifying where the initial infections came from. However, they were soon able to narrow down the search to the unlicensed doctor and his less than sanitary practices. According to a report in the Cambodia Daily, “For every two or three people, [Chrin] used one syringe.”
Though infection through this means is extremely rare (as low as one in 10,000 according to some reports), what happened in Cambodia is another reminder of the importance of proper needle safety and disposal.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has released these guidelines: “Contaminated needles and other contaminated sharps shall not be bent, recapped or removed unless the employer can demonstrate that no alternative is feasible or that such action is required by a specific medical or dental procedure.”
OSHA also suggests that all individuals, especially nursing staff, lab workers, doctors, and housekeepers follow proper safety procedures around needles, including using devices that allow for the safe handling and disposal of needles as well as immediately reporting any needlestick or sharps-related injuries.
The most common infections that occur from accidental needlesticks are hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and HIV.
The CDC highly recommends that anyone who could come in contact with sharps or is at high risk for a hepatitis B infection receive a vaccination against the disease.
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