Community needlestick injury in children

Cite this article as:
Henry Goldstein. Community needlestick injury in children, Don't Forget the Bubbles, 2014. Available at:

Alfie, 6, is playing at local playground under Mum’s watchful eye. He goes down the slide and jumps off, landing on his hands and feet. He starts to cry and shows his Mum a syringe lying in the bark and a needlestick injury of his left hand. Mum is distraught when she brings Alfie into your department. What next?

Bottom Line:

  • Needlestick injuries in the community are a source of great concern for parents.
  • There is one reported case of seroconversion of Hepatitis B in children.
  • The actual chance of viral transmission is very low.
  • Ensure your patient is immunised!
  • High risk patients should be discussed with your local infectious disease team for consideration of post-exposure prophylaxis.
  • Educate children not to handles needles – 2/3 CANSI’s are from intentional handling!

There is a risk of transmission of Hepatitis B, Hepatits C or HIV from a community-acquired needlestick injury (CANSI). Although the risk is very low, this is a source of significant concern to parents. Several studies lasting from several months to nearly two decades in length have looked at the epidemiology of CANSIs. These studies, undertaken in Melbourne, Montreal, Birmingham and Perth broadly agree that;

~65% CANSIs occur in boys

Mean age is around 6-8 years

In two-thirds of CANSIs, the syringe or needle was intentionally handled by the child

The most common site of injury was the hand

About a quarter of wounds bled

In the Melbourne study CANSIs often occurred in public places in parks (30%), in the street (18%), in carparks (5%) and at the beach (6%). In Montreal, CANSIs occurred predominantly in the street (30%) and in parks (24%). Whilst the obvious difference  is the lack of beaches in downtown Montreal, it’s also worth noting that a number of CANSIs must also occur in private residences.

So, what’s the risk?

Each of the papers described the baseline prevalence of HBV, HCV & HIV in their population, as well as the same prevalence within the IVDU community. None of the papers reviewed (total patients 416) reported any cases of seroconversion to Hep B, Hep C or HIV. There is a single case report of seroconversion to Hepatitis B after a CANSI in a child, reported in Barcelona in 1997. In 1999, Bowden et al, proposed conversion rates in the Victorian population to be around 6-30% for HepB, 0-7% for HepC and 0.4% HIV.


Although the risk is largely theoretical, factors that are considered to be high risk for acquired infection are:

  • known needle source user
  • needle user known to be infected
  • a deliberate assault
  • a large-volume injection
  • wide bore, hollow needle
  • blood in or on syringe
  • deep wound (vs superficial)

These children should be discussed with your local infectious diseases team for consideration of HIV post-exposure prophylaxis, after their initial management.

What is the initial management?

Wash the wound with soap and water.

Ensure the syringe/needle has been safely disposed

History of note:

  • Time, date and location of CANSI
  • Type of exposure?
  • What did the needle look like?
  • What kind of needle was it?
  • Is the child immunised? (specific details of each)
  • Were there other children around that may have an unreported CANSI?
  • Is this a high-risk exposure, as outlined above?

Take blood for HepB Surface antibody (HepB AbS) in a serum gel tube to store.


Consider tetanus vaccine +/- tetanus immunoglobulin.

Not required if immunised against tetanus in last five years.

If unimmunised, for immunoglobulin and vaccine.

Otherwise, if previously immunised, for booster dose.


Hepatitis B vaccination +/- Hep B immunoglobulin

If unimmunised, give first dose of vaccine and HepB Ig within 72 hours of exposure (in different limbs!)

If immunised, check titre & give booster.


Luckily, Alfie is immunised for both Hepatitis B and Tetanus. After a thorough wash of his hand, and some relatively obliging blood tests, he’s ready for home. His Mum asks if he needs any other medicine to reduce the risk of  “catching one of those viruses you mentioned.”

Post-exposure prophylaxis : Hepatits B immunoglobulin

There is a larger argument that there are risks associated with Hepatitis B immunoglobulin, including that of acquired infection, which must be weighted against the potential benefits of preventing a seroconversion when this may be highly unlikely in the first instance.

In the UK, Hep B immunoglobulin is only recommended in patients with exposure to known Hepatitis B source, although there is some leeway depending on the clinical circumstances. The Auckland District Health Board (ADHB), in NZ states “Administration of hepatitis immune globulin (HBIG) is not indicated if the child has completed a standard three-dose regimen of hepatitis B vaccination.” RCH Melbourne advises to offer HBIG to all unimmunised children with CANSI. There remains controversy in this component of management.

Hence, if the decision is made to treat, give HBIG within 72hrs.

(In Australia, Hep B Immunoglobulin is provided by the Red Cross Blood Service.)

Give the HBIG in a different limb to the Hep B booster you’ve just administered!


<30kg – give 100 iu IM injection

>30kg – give 400 iu IM injection


Post-exposure prophylaxis: HIV

The papers reviewed had no reports of viral transmission of HIV from a CANSI. All mentioned antiretroviral therapy as potential post-exposure prophylaxis for HIV exposure. There were no clear guidelines on which children should be offered HIV-PEP; the ‘high-risk’ patients identified in the list above were more likely to receive prophylaxis. In the Montreal study, of the 210 patients who presented thereafter, an offer of prophylaxis to 87 patients (41.4%) was documented, and 82 (94.3%) of these patients accepted. Prophylaxis was zidovudine and lamivudine for 28 days in 74 patients (90.2%), additionally eight patients were also prescribed a protease inhibitor (nelfinavir, indinavir or ritonavir). Papenburg and colleagues go on to describe the rates of adverse effects from these medications. Consideration of HIV:PEP should be discussed with the local infectious diseases team.


Follow up & counselling

Although the risk of seroconversion is low, it’s important not to underestimate the stress a needlestick will place on the child and family. Provide reassurance that the risk of viral transmission from a CANSI is very low. Don’t forget some written information about completing a catch-up course of immunisation. Contact your local paediatric infectious disease team; they may be happy to provide additional follow-up or counselling. That being said, always consider the prevalence of the blood-borne viruses where you work! The majority of DFTB readers are working in the Australasian, United Kingdom & North American settings; within and without these areas, the prevalence of Hep B, C & HIV can vary considerably.


It’s also worth noting that the studies mentioned probably underestimate the rate of CANSIs; not all children with a needlestick injury will tell their parents, and likewise, not all parents whose child reports a needlestick injury will present for care.

Finally, there’s clearly a huge public health component of this issue. Papenburg et al. identified that in nearly two-thirds of cases, the child actively handled the needle; it’s important to teach children to avoid any discarded syringes or needles and to tell an adult.



Russell FM.  Nash MC. A prospective study of children with community-acquired needlestick injuries in Melbourne.  Journal of Paediatrics & Child Health.  38(3):322-3, 2002 Jun.

Papenburg J.  Blais D.  Moore D.  Al-Hosni M.  Laferriere C.  Tapiero B.  Quach C. Pediatric injuries from needles discarded in the community: epidemiology and risk of seroconversion.  Pediatrics.  122(2):e487-92, 2008 Aug.

Celenza, A. et al. Audit of emergency department assessment and management of patients presenting with community-acquired needle stick injuries. Australian Health Review, 2011, 35, 57–62.

Garc ́ıa-Algar O, Vall O. Hepatitis B virus infection from a needle stick. Pediatr Infect Dis J. 1997;16(11):1099

Makwana N.  Riordan FA. Prospective study of community needlestick injuries.  Archives of Disease in Childhood.  90(5):523-4, 2005 May.

Bowden S, Druce J, Kelly H. Stability of blood-borne viruses in the environment and risk of infection. Victorian Infect. Dis. Bull. 1999; 2: 71–2.$FILE/vidbv2i4.pdf

Starship Children’s Hospital, Auckland, NZ – Clinical Guidelines (Needlestick Injuries)

Decle, P. Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) guidelines for children and adolescents exposed to blood-borne viruses 06/08/2011

Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne, Clinical Practice Guidelines – Needlestick Injury

Updated 5/11/2017: Corrected initial investigations from HepB Surface Antigen to Antibody. See comments below.

Kids in cars

Cite this article as:
Andrew Tagg. Kids in cars, Don't Forget the Bubbles, 2014. Available at:

The mercury on the outside thermometer is inching past 40oC for the third day in a row and for once you are grateful to be in the cool, air-conditioned emergency department.  The emergency phone snaps you back into alertness. The paramedics are bringing in a toddler that has been liberated from the back of a parked car.

Bottom Line

      • Despite widespread public information campaigns children are still left alone in cars every heatwave.
      • Just 15 minutes unattended is enough to raise the temperature of the car to lethal levels.
      • Heat illness varies on a continuum from heat stress and cramps to heat exhaustion and then heatstroke.
      • Heatstroke is a medical emergency and is characterized by neurological deterioration, anhydrosis and a core temperature above 40oC

How big a problem is it?

During the recent heatwave in Melbourne, when the temperature topped 40 degrees for four days straight, Ambulance Victoria received 60 calls for children trapped in cars. Fortunately, there were no fatalities. During the 1995-2002 period in the United States, there were 171 entirely preventable deaths.

Studies have suggested that on a hot day the temperature in a locked vehicle can rise as high as 51-67oC within 15 minutes. 75% of this rise occurs within the first five minutes of the door closing, so even short periods of leaving a child unattended can be dangerous. There is some evidence that leaving the window cracked can make a difference but all the data suggests that it has to be open at least 20 cm to make an appreciable difference.

Why are children at particular risk?

Even though kids have a larger body surface area-to-mass ratio than adults, they have much less effective thermoregulation. They have a higher metabolic rate so are really little furnaces.  Unfortunately, they are less well able to regulate their cardiac output in response to heat stress and produce less sweat per apocrine gland compared to adults. Perhaps more importantly, unlike most adults, they cannot get out if they are left in the car seat on their own.

What’s the difference between heat stress, heat exhaustion, and heatstroke?

Words are important. What the lay public means when they say heatstroke is very different from what the medical professional means.

Heat stress is what we all feel when the mercury rises – we’re grumpy, irritable, sweaty and often listless but not unwell. The core temperature is unaffected.

Heat exhaustion occurs as a result of salt and/or water depletion.It may be compounded by nausea, vomiting and excessive sweating. The core temperature may or may not be up altered.

Heatstroke is a medical emergency and typically classified as either exertional (think running a marathon on a hot day)  or non-exertional (sitting in a hot car).  As the core temperature rises above 40oC the patient often becomes more lethargic and delirious. Seizures, then coma, eventually ensue.

How do children lose their excess heat?

Heat is lost via radiation, conduction, evaporation, and convection with these latter two being most amenable to change.

How can you manage a child with heat-related illness?

As with all potentially toxic exposures (to heat in this instance) removal from the source is vital. The child should be managed in a cool environment if possible and attention paid to their ABCs.

      • Airway – they may require intubation if clinically indicated
      • Breathing – if they need to be intubated then mechanical ventilation will need to be initiated
      • Circulation – children suffering from heatstroke are often profoundly dehydrated with challenging IV access. Don’t hesitate to break out your favourite intraosseous device. As peripheral cooling is instituted more blood is returned to the central circulation increasing the risk of pulmonary oedema.
      • Disability – seizures should be treated with benzodiazepines initially but you should check the UEC urgently and assess the sodium for hypo- or hypernatraemia depending on whether salt and water depletion or pure water depletion predominates.
      • Exposure – having discovered a high core temperature then it is time to do something about it. Techniques can range from the simple – remove clothes, ice packs in the axillae and groins, cool fans, cold IV fluids to the Macgyver – creating a cooling tent. This can be done by soaking a sheet in cold water and draping it, suspended, over the patient with a fan to push air through it. The aim is to maximize heat loss via convection, conduction, and evaporation.

They’ve got a temperature, shouldn’t you give them some paracetamol/Tylenol/acetaminophen?

There is no evidence that antipyretics lower the temperature in cases of heat-related illness.

Disposition for the sick patient is straight forward.  They need admission to HDU/ICU. But what should you do for the well-appearing child?

There is no consensus as to how long a patient should be observed but common sense would dictate that if their temperature has normalized and they are rehydrated then they are fit enough to go home.

Should you involve social services?

That is the million-dollar question. Certainly, in Australia, Section 231 of the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998 clearly states:-

A person who leaves any child or young person in the person’s care in a motor vehicle without proper supervision for such a period or in such circumstances that :

(a) the child or young person becomes or is likely to become emotionally distressed, or
(b) the child’s or young persons health becomes or is likely to become permanently or temporarily impaired is guilty of an offence.

Hasn’t the distraught parent been through enough?  This excellent piece from the Washington Post, entitled Fatal Distraction eloquently puts parents struggle into words.


Little Nelly is brought in, nearly naked and crying. Her rectal temperature is 38oC and she tolerates a delicious icy pole. Her mother is beside herself. You discuss the case with the local social services who agree to follow up.


Selected References

McLaren C, Null J, Quinn J. Heat stress from enclosed vehicles: moderate ambient temperatures cause significant temperature rise in enclosed vehicles. Pediatrics. 2005 Jul;116(1):e109-12. PubMed PMID: 15995010

King K, Negus K, Vance JC. Heat stress in motor vehicles: a problem in infancy. Pediatrics. 1981 Oct;68(4):579-82. PubMed PMID: 7322691.

Grubenhoff, Joseph A., Kelley du Ford, and Genie E. Roosevelt. “Heat-related illness.” Clinical Pediatric Emergency Medicine 8.1 (2007): 59-64.

Guard, A., and Susan Scavo Gallagher. “Heat related deaths to young children in parked cars: an analysis of 171 fatalities in the United States, 1995–2002.”Injury Prevention 11.1 (2005): 33-37. accessed 21st January 2014

Bouchama, Abderrezak, and James P. Knochel. “Heat stroke.” New England Journal of Medicine 346.25 (2002): 1978-1988.

Wexler, Randell K. “Evaluation and treatment of heat-related illnesses.”American family physician 65.11 (2002): 2307-2313.



Head injury – who to scan?

Cite this article as:
Anna Ings. Head injury – who to scan?, Don't Forget the Bubbles, 2013. Available at:

Kids come into emergency EVERY day with head injury. In many cases imaging decisions are simple. Especially when the child rolled off the bed, cried straight away & is now tearing up the ED – BUT plenty of cases present a diagnostic dilemma for physicians.

How many white cells v red cells do we allow in CSF?

Cite this article as:
Tessa Davis. How many white cells v red cells do we allow in CSF?, Don't Forget the Bubbles, 2013. Available at:

Unless your skills are tip top, the chances are that you will have had a traumatic tap before (studies suggest up to 40% of lumbar punctures). Blood in the CSF on lumbar puncture can be a sign of a subarachnoid haemorrhage but more commonly is due to a traumatic tap (if the number of red cells in consecutive samples remains the same, it’s likely to be an SAH, but if they reduce then it’s likely due to a traumatic tap).

Status epilepticus

Cite this article as:
Chris Partyka. Status epilepticus, Don't Forget the Bubbles, 2013. Available at:

The batphone rings at 5am. You are given a 5 minute ‘heads up’ by paramedics regarding a 3 year old child they are rushing to you with lights & sirens. She has a history of seizure disorder and has been actively seizing for 45 minutes….

Do rigors indicate serious bacterial infection?

Cite this article as:
Tessa Davis. Do rigors indicate serious bacterial infection?, Don't Forget the Bubbles, 2013. Available at:

We often see children with pyrexia and have to decide on whether or not they have a serious underlying bacterial infection.  When the parent describes, or uses the word ‘rigors’ we all get a bit twitchy ourselves.  But is there any evidence to suggest that rigors = serious bacterial infection?