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FDA warns against sharing insulin pens

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a press release last week [1] reminding healthcare professionals that they should use insulin pens only on one patient and then dispose of the device. The FDA is aware of incidents at two undisclosed hospitals, where healthcare workers used pens to administer insulin on multiple patients, putting more than 2,000 people at risk for hepatitis and HIV.

Insulin pens contain a disposable needle and either an insulin reservoir or cartridge. The pens typically contain enough insulin for patients to self-administer multiple injections. In the cases referenced by the FDA, although the disposable needles were reportedly changed between patients, the cartridge was not. Bloodborne pathogens can potentially contaminate this part of the pen during the injection, making it unsafe to use for multiple patients.

The FDA is currently working with the CDC to address this issue, but in the meantime patients who were exposed to the pens are being contacted for testing. Some of those patients have already tested positive for hepatitis C, although it’s unclear whether it was contracted as a result of the insulin pens, according to the release.

Insulin pens also pose the greatest needlestick hazards to personnel in nursing homes, according to a study reviewed in the December 2008 Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology.

The study analyzed the causes and circumstances related to 162 needlestick injuries to nurses and geriatric staff in nursing homes.

An August 2008 FDA Patient Safety News reported on training solutions to increased needlestick hazards and when facilities transition to insulin pens from vials. Click here to view the 3-minute video or read the transcript. [2]

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