Needle-stick Guideline Treatment & Management

Updated: Jul 01, 2021
  • Author: Megan A Stobart-Gallagher, DO; Chief Editor: Jeter (Jay) Pritchard Taylor, III, MD  more...
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Approach Considerations

Patients with an occupational exposure should seek treatment as soon as possible, as studies have shown the efficacy of postexposure HIV prophylaxis is highest when initiated within the first 72 hours of exposure. [8]  However, it is recommended to initiate this preventative therapy as soon as possible as some efficacy can start to diminish within 2 hours post-exposure. [9]


Prehospital Care

Wash wounds with warm water and soap.

If the exposure is mucosal, including to the eyes, or if the wound is large enough to irrigate, irrigate with copious amounts of saline or other clean fluid. [7]

No evidence supports routine use of bleach, antiseptics, or disinfectants to clean exposed areas.


Emergency Department Care

Irrigate and clean the wound.

Assess the need for tetanus and/or hepatitis B prophylaxis is based on medical history. [10] Health care providers should have been immunized against hepatitis B. Hepatitis A prophylaxis may (rarely) need to be considered depending on the source-patient situation.

Follow all federal (Occupational Safety and Health Administration [OSHA]), state, and institutional guidelines for reporting such exposures. Federal law requires covered employers to ensure that all medical evaluations and procedures, vaccines, and postexposure prophylaxis are made available to the employee within a reasonable time and at a reasonable location and at no cost to the employee. [11]

CDC three-step risk assessment

Assess necessity for HIV or chemoprophylaxis (antiretrovirals) based on an assessment of the risk by using the 3-step process developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). [12]

Step 1: Determine exposure code

Is the source material blood, bloody fluid, other potentially infectious material, or an instrument contaminated with one of these substances? If not, there is no risk of HIV transmission? If yes, what type of exposure occurred?

If the exposure was to intact skin only, there is no risk of HIV transmission.

If the exposure was to mucous membrane or integrity-compromised skin, was the volume of fluid small (ie, few drops, short duration) or large (ie, several drops or major splash, long duration)? If small, the category is exposure code 1. If large, the category is exposure code 2.

If the exposure was percutaneous, was it a solid needle or a superficial scratch (ie, less severe)? If yes, the category is exposure code 2.

Was it from a large-bore hollow needle, a device with visible blood, or a needle used in a source patient's artery or vein (ie, more severe)? If yes, the category is exposure code 3.

Step 2: Determine HIV status code

What is the HIV status of the exposure source? If HIV negative, no postexposure prophylaxis is needed. If HIV positive, was the exposure low titer or high titer? Low-titer exposures are asymptomatic patients with high CD4 counts: These are HIV status code 1. High-titer exposures are patients with primary HIV infection, high or increasing viral load or low CD4 counts, or advanced acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS): These are HIV status code 2. If HIV status is unknown or the source is unknown, the HIV status code is unknown.

Step 3: Match exposure code with HIV status code to determine if any postexposure prophylaxis is indicated

Postexposure prophylaxis recommendations are discussed below.

Exposure code 1 and HIV status code 1: Postexposure prophylaxis may not be warranted. Exposure type does not pose a known risk. The exposed health care worker and the treating clinician should decide whether the risk for drug toxicity outweighs the benefit of postexposure prophylaxis.

Exposure code 1 and HIV status code 2: Consider the basic regimen. Exposure type poses a negligible risk for HIV transmission. A high HIV titer in the source may justify consideration of postexposure prophylaxis. The exposed health care worker and the treating clinician should decide whether the risk for drug toxicity outweighs the benefit of postexposure prophylaxis.

Exposure code 2 and HIV status code 1: Recommend the basic regimen. Most HIV exposures are in this category. No increased risk for HIV transmission has been observed, but use of postexposure prophylaxis is appropriate.

Exposure code 2 and HIV status code 2: Recommend expanded regimen. Exposure type represents an increased HIV transmission risk.

Exposure code 3 and HIV status code 1 or 2: Recommend expanded regimen. Exposure type represents an increased HIV transmission risk.

HIV status code unknown: If the source or, in the case of an unknown source, the setting where the exposure occurred suggests possible risk for HIV exposure and the exposure code is 2 or 3, consider the postexposure prophylaxis basic regimen.

Recommended 28-day prophylaxis

For adults, the backbone regimen is a combo pill of tenofovir 300 mg daily plus emtricitabine 200 mg (Truvada) daily plus either raltegravir (Isentress) 400 mg BID or dolutegravir (Dovato) 50 mg daily.  

Zidovudine is no longer recommended in the preferred PEP regimen because it is not believed to offer any clear advantage in efficacy over the tenofovir formulation and has significantly higher rates of treatment-limiting adverse effect. [13, 8, 14, 15] See

Assess need for hepatitis B/C prophylaxis

Hepatitis B measures are as follows:

  • Previously vaccinated with known response to vaccine: No therapy required.
  • Previously vaccinated without known response to vaccine: Send anti-HepBs titer; administer prophylaxis (one dose of HBIG); booster is required
  • Unvaccinated: Provide one dose of HBIG and initiate vaccination series

There is no known effective postexposure prophylaxis for hepatitis C. The risk of HCV infection after exposure is approximately 1.8%. Testing should occur within 48 hours of exposure, and the typical guidelines for management and treatment of hepatitis C should be followed. [16]



Consult an infectious disease specialist if risks and/or benefits of drug treatment cannot be easily defined.

Clinicians who are treating exposed patients can also consult the National Clinicians Post-Exposure Prophylaxis Hotline (PEPline) at 1-888-448-4911 for advice (available 11AM-8pm EST) on managing any occupational exposure to HIV, hepatitis B, and/or hepatitis C.

Other resources available for consultation include the following [17] :

  • Clinical Consultation Center (CCC) for PEP may be reached by calling 1-888-448-4911 for occupational exposure. The CCC is part of the AIDS Education and Training Centers and is located at the University of California.   
  • Antiretroviral Pregnancy Registry - Address: 301 Government Center, Wilmington, NC 28405; telephone: 800-258-4263; fax: 800-800-1052
  • FDA (for reporting unusual or severe toxicity to antiretroviral agents) - Telephone: 800-332-1088; address: MedWatch, The FDA Safety Information and Adverse Event Reporting Program, Food and Drug Administration, 5600 Fishers Lane, Rockville, MD 20852
  • The CDC’s Cases of Public Health Importance (COPHI) coordinator (for reporting HIV infections in HCP and failures of PEP) - Telephone: 404-639-2050