Large-animal veterinarians, and the farm and ranch crews they train, face inherently dangerous working conditions. One of those dangers, with potentially serious or even fatal results, is injury from needles while injecting medications.

Recently, University of Minnesota veterinarian Jeff Bender, DVM, MS, ACVPM, conducted a webinar on needlestick injuries on behalf of the Upper Midwest Agricultural Safety and Health (UMASH) Center. Health problems associated with these injuries can include infectious diseases due to exposure to manure, blood or other contaminants, but the webinar focused primarily on the dangers of human exposure to drugs or drug components intended for animals. Injectable animal-health products, including vaccines, antibiotics, analgesics and anesthetics are thoroughly tested for safety in the target animal, but rarely are tested for human safety.

The USDA, Bender notes, has licensed over 2,000 vaccines for use in animals, with about 500 of those being live vaccines. If a person accidentally injects himself or herself, the vaccine, or in many cases, the adjuvant, can cause serious adverse reactions. Surprisingly, research has shown a significant incidence of farm workers intentionally injecting themselves with animal-health products, such as an equine vaccine for West Nile Virus. Most cases, however, result from accidental injections.

National survey have shown that 80 percent of farmers working with livestock have, at some time, injured themselves with syringe needles. A survey in Minnesota showed that 83 percent of veterinarians and 78 percent of veterinary technicians have experienced needlestick injuries. In That survey, 44 percent of veterinarians and 46 percent of veterinary technicians had experienced needlestick injuries over the previous 12 months.

Much of the research into needlestick injuries has focused on human health professionals, but some of the results certainly have implications for livestock production. Among nurses for example, the highest number of injuries occur during their first year of practice, and a high percentage of injuries occur on Fridays, suggesting inexperience, fatigue and haste correspond with a higher risk level.

Experience in human medicine also has shown that training and educational materials focused on prevention of needlestick injuries tend to result in reductions.

Bender encourages veterinarians and managers to continuously train employees, create awareness of the dangers and provide a working environment that minimizes risk. For employee practices he recommends:

·         Ensure proper restraint of the animal before administering injections.

·         Enlist help from a co-worker when restraining and injecting animals.

·         Do not re-cap syringes, or do so only when using appropriate safety devices.

·         Do not put a syringe in your mouth to free your hands for other tasks.

·         Do not put syringes in your pants pockets.

·         Discard bent needles.

·         Use an appropriate sharps disposal container and keep it within arm’s reach for the worker injecting animals.

Bender points out that the UMASH website, at the University of Minnesota, includes fact sheets and a series of videos on preventing needlestick injuries, available in English and Spanish.