Safe Handling of Single-Use Syringes

Most immunization programs in the Region use single-use disposable plastic syringes for administering vaccinations. During natural disasters, such as the one caused by "Mitch", all health personal (international volunteers and national staff) should make sure that PAHO/WHO guidelines are followed to assure safe use of disposable injection equipment and that the proper equipment for collection and disposal of contaminated syringes and needles is available. This is especially true when the standard operating procedures cannot be followed because either the collection of medical waste has been disrupted or the facilities for properly destroying used syringes are not available. PAHO/WHO recommends the following guidelines:

  • "Auto-destruct" syringes are the preferred type of disposable injection equipment for administering vaccines and the equipment of choice for conducting mass immunization campaigns.
  • Health workers should not attempt to re-cap used needles.
  • All used disposable syringes should be collected in "Safety Boxes", puncture resistant containers designed for collecting used injection equipment.
  • All "Safety Boxes", or similar containers holding contaminated injection equipment, should be carefully transported to incineration site or facility.
  • Where no incineration facilities exist or they are unavailable, the "Safety Boxes" can be burned in an open pit or similar mechanism such as a metal barrel. Burnt needles can then be safely buried or disposed of with other waste.

Failure to adhere to the above guidelines may put public health at risk because used disposable injection equipment maybe re-used and thus place the general public at risk of disease and death. Health workers who recap used needles put themselves at risk of contracting infectious disease due accidental needlestick injuries. Members of the general public may suffer accidental needlestick injuries if used needles and syringes are not properly destroyed.

Remember every injection should be administered with a sterile needle and syringe.