So, I handled a needle I found at a park and forgot to wash my hands...
May 30, 2013 11:25 PM   Subscribe

So I was in a park in SF and spotted a busted needle in the path. I dunno if it had been used but the plastic part was broken as if it had been stepped on a few times and ground into the dirt. I didn't want anyone or any puppy to step on this exposed needle so, with minimal skin contact, I took the thing over to the waste bin. I wiped my hand on my pants and continued on my walk for about an hour. I then headed home and ate something and may have licked my fingers, right before remembering about the needle. Cutting to the chase: Do I have Hep?
posted by cman to Health & Fitness (20 answers total)
I'm not a doctor or scientist, but it seems if you touched the plastic syringe rather than the needle, and you didn't puncture your skin and you don't have any open wounds, and the thing had been sitting in the dirt for a fair amount of time and was dry, and you wiped your hands, it wouldn't be highly likely that you contracted any diseases. Of course it could happen, but it just doesn't sound highly likely. That was very good of you to be concerned about your fellow citizens and their pets by the way.
posted by Dansaman at 11:32 PM on May 30, 2013

Highly unlikely*. The only way I could see is if both the part you touched was crawling with hepatitis AND you had a significant cut on your finger as well.

posted by zardoz at 11:44 PM on May 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

AIUI (and reinforced with some googling; IANAD) this falls squarely in the "probably technically possible to contract hepatitis this way, but really not likely" category.
posted by hattifattener at 12:08 AM on May 31, 2013 [5 favorites]

A simple blood test will answer your question definitively.
posted by three blind mice at 12:47 AM on May 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

Hepatitis C is the main issue of concern with needles. From the CDC: hepatitis is transmitted when blood from an infected person enters the body of another person. I didn't see anything in your story about blood entering your body.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 1:52 AM on May 31, 2013 [3 favorites]

Note the sentence at the linked page about household transmission of hepatitis - the result of direct, through the skin exposure to blood. I am assuming if you had open wounds on your hands or in your mouth you would have mentioned it. If you do have open wounds then I suppose it is possible but still quite unlikely.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 1:56 AM on May 31, 2013

Best answer: nthing REALLY unlikely.

Probably nobody can tell just how unlikely - too many never-studied variables. Nor can anyone say it's totally impossible. Hep B virus can live on a dry surface for a couple weeks. Possibly.

But imagine how many unlikelies have to line up.

1) The needle had to have been used
2) by someone with hepatitis
3) and blood left on the part you handled
4) and not physically removed by all the stepping on
5) and not killed by drying out
6) or the ultraviolet in sunlight.
7) And, of the remaining blood, you had to get enough of it on your hand to transmit disease (probability of transmission being dependent on the size of the inoculum)
8) and somehow leave enough on your hand despite the pants-wiping
9) and, of that amount, transfer enough to your mouth when you ate
10) and have enough of that absorbed through mucous membrane or via un-noticed oral wound

At this point, I think I'd call the chance of your getting a disease this way "vanishingly small."
posted by wjm at 3:39 AM on May 31, 2013 [3 favorites]

Really unlikely, but do yourself a favor and get a blood test. You probably won't stop obsessing over this until you do.
posted by duffell at 4:06 AM on May 31, 2013

I agree about unlikely, but I know my household has had far fewer colds since we started washing our hands every time we come in from outdoors.
posted by Ideefixe at 4:19 AM on May 31, 2013

Also agreed - highly unlikely if you didn't prick yourself. A test never hurts though for peace of mind...
posted by SpringRobin at 5:48 AM on May 31, 2013

Doesn't matter now - you either have it or not. If you feel sick, then see a doctor. Peace of mind doesn't come from only tests, but also understanding risk probability.
posted by Kruger5 at 5:49 AM on May 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

FWIW you can get a Hep A and B vaccine (C is more difficult to transmit, basically requires blood or sexual contact). (IANAD)
posted by amaire at 6:03 AM on May 31, 2013

Did you cut yourself? Did you have an open sore on the hand that touched the syringe? Did the thing you picked up actually have the needle part in it, or was it just the plastic barrel?

If you didn't cut yourself or have an open sore and especially if there was no actual needle that poked you, then no, you didn't catch anything from it. (If there was a needle still in the syringe, I hope whoever roots around in that trash can looking for recyclables doesn't get stuck.)
posted by rtha at 6:23 AM on May 31, 2013

Thinking about it some more— my imagined scenario was the same as wjm's— that route would really apply to any object in the environment, like the door to any public building, or a park bench, or a street-crossing button. Since there isn't a massive pandemic of people acquiring hepatitis without more-direct exposure, I think one can put an upper bound on the chance of infection this way as "really too low to worry about".

I know my household has had far fewer colds since we started washing our hands every time we come in from outdoors

A good idea regardless. It also reduces your exposure to heavy metals and intestinal parasites!
posted by hattifattener at 8:11 AM on May 31, 2013

To address what Ideefixe said, catching a cold (which can easily spread between anyone in close contact with one another, such as sharing a household or on a subway together or whatever), is quite different from catching hepatitis (which as I noted, rarely transmits between members of a household or people who take mass transit together because it generally requires direct, through the skin exposure to blood).
posted by treehorn+bunny at 9:05 AM on May 31, 2013

Ideefixe: I agree about unlikely, but I know my household has had far fewer colds since we started washing our hands every time we come in from outdoors.
Apples are not oranges; blood-transmitted virus are not mucus-transmitted virus.
posted by IAmBroom at 12:29 PM on May 31, 2013

It seems that while you might get peace of mind from a test, you actually put yourself at greater risk of illness or injury that way than you did from the handling of the needle. Doctors' offices are germy places! You might have to drive there on dangerous roads! Maybe the needles used for the blood test aren't properly sterile! I agree with Kruger5: take comfort from the numbers.
posted by Pomo at 3:46 PM on May 31, 2013

take comfort from the numbers

It is nice that you can say this to yourself but people are, at a visceral level, really bad at statistical reasoning. If it makes the OP happier to get a Hepatitis test, they should do so. The risks you cite are basically indistinguishable from the risks of day-to-day life. (If OP isn't driving to the doctor's office, they might drive somewhere else! A place that also has germs! ZOMG!) Don't further scaremonger.
posted by dendrochronologizer at 5:54 PM on May 31, 2013

The aim wasn't to scaremonger but rather to put OP's fears into context: to emphasize how this one thing that s/he is afraid of stacks up against other daily risks s/he may not consider threatening at all. I personally find that helpful when I start getting anxious about something unlikely, and thought OP might as well.
posted by Pomo at 8:03 AM on June 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

the ONLY way to contract hep c is BLOOD TO BLOOD. hep c doenst' die with bleach and can live in a syringe (IN it) for a few weeks, or on the outside of it for a few hours. but you would need to have had an open wound on your hand or have pricked yourself to get hep c. hiv dies when it hits the air.
posted by katie521 at 2:11 PM on June 4, 2013

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