A child’s imagination can transform the mundane into the fantastical. In the eyes of a child a simple cardboard box can become a castle and a table can become a fort. This ability to daydream is one of the hallmarks of childhood, but it can also prove dangerous if the repurposed toy is a used sharp. Every year children around the globe are the victims of Community Acquired Accidental Needle Stick Injuries. Discarded sharps represent a serious threat to public health when they are disposed of in improper ways. Victims of Accidental Needle Stick Injuries are at danger of developing diseases such as Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, HIV and Syphilis among others.
In October of 2008, Teresa Garcia-Guerra of Austin, Texas received news that would terrify any parent. A kindergartener had stuck herself and Garcia-Guerra’s child as well as two schoolmates with a discarded needle found in the public park, which adjoined the school. Months of anxiety and doctors visits followed as the children were tested at different intervals for diseases associated with used needles. After the incident, the school responded by restricting access to the park's public restrooms and instructing the school's custodians to do a morning surveillance of the park playground. While these measures are an appropriate preliminary post-incident reaction, they are not a sustainable manner of preventing future such injuries over an extended period and cannot reasonably be implemented in all public locations where Needle Stick Injuries might occur.
With current estimates predicting that half of the American population will be diabetic or pre-diabetic by 2020, the rates of sharps circulating in the general public are likely to rise dramatically as more and more people require sharps for insulin injection. It is therefore important to address the problem of sharps disposal from a multifaceted plan of action in order to prevent future injuries like those in Austin from becoming a formidable community public health crisis.
As with most dangers faced in daily life, the first line of defense begins with education. Teaching children both at home and in the schools the dangers associated with the handling of used needles may help prevent many injuries. Without specific warnings to avoid discarded needles, the used sharp discovered on the playground may appear to be the perfect instrument to play doctor with to a child. Because children often model behavior they see around them, they may want to play pretend by imitating the shot they received at a doctor’s visit; unawares of the peril held in their hands. It is important for parents and officials to teach children from an early age to avoid discarded sharps. Creating effective prevention education could involve cartoons which warn children to never touch found sharps, having public health speakers provide school lectures on the dangers of sharps and distributing coloring books and other children’s literature focused on conveying...