Saskatoon StarPhoenix

Needle risk low: officials

No cases recorded of HIV, hepatitis from used syringes

- By Luke Simcoe

Members of the city’s health community are taking steps to counter what they call “needle hysteria” as concern mounts over discarded syringes found in Saskatoon parks and playground­s.

Dr. Johnmark Opondo, the deputy medical health officer for the Saskatoon Health Region, said Wednesday the risk of contractin­g a deadly disease from a discarded syringe is almost non-existent.

“The risk of contractin­g disease is very, very low,” he said. “And there’s no recorded cases of anyone (in Saskatchew­an) contractin­g HIV or hepatitis in that way.”

In 2007, the most recent year for which numbers are available, there were only three reported cases of people in the province being pricked by discarded syringes. At least one incident involved a health worker cleaning up needles, and none of the victims were children, Opondo said.

Public panic around needles often peaks in the spring as months of accumulate­d syringes reveal themselves in the thaw, Opondo said.

So far in April, fire crews have already picked up hundreds of needles in Saskatoon, mainly in the city’s core.

More than 150 needles were found in a 48-hour period spanning April 2 and 3.

A “sharps walk day” is scheduled for Wednesday and participan­ts will search areas frequented by children for any undiscover­ed needles.

Although she admits discarded syringes can be a contentiou­s issue, AIDS Saskatoon director Nicole White says it’s important for people not to direct their anger toward the province’s needle exchange program, which provides drug users with clean needles and encourages them to dispose of used needles appropriat­ely.

“I know needle exchange programs are a hard thing for people to understand, but they’re aimed at harm reduction,” she said.

AIDS Saskatoon’s 601 Outreach Centre on 33rd Street West recently became one of the city’s 13 sites for needle exchange.

“We work with wonderful people on a daily basis and I really encour- age everyone to go and get educated on the subject instead of just having an opinion,” White said.

According to a report published by the health region in December, needle exchange programs have been proven to reduce the transmissi­on of HIV among drug users by more than 30 per cent.

In 2007, the exchange program in Saskatchew­an gave out approximat­ely four million needles, of which 90 per cent were returned.

Anyone who finds a needle should call 975-2828 to have it disposed of safely.

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