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Detachable needles on syringes promote hepatitis C transmission, study says

February 17, 2010 |  3:45 pm

The high incidence of hepatitis C infections among drug abusers may be due in part to the use of syringes with detachable needles, which are more likely to transfer viable viruses from one user to the next, Yale University researchers will report Friday. Their study is reputed to be the first that examines the survival of the virus in used syringes.

Dr. Elijah Paintsil of the Yale School of Medicine and his colleagues studied survival of the hepatitis C virus in several types of syringes. They loaded the syringes with blood spiked with the virus, depressed the plunger and measured the concentration of hepatitis C virus in the residual blood immediately afterward and nine weeks later.


Paintsil will report in San Francisco at the 17th Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections that the virus persisted for nine weeks at most temperatures in so-called tuberculin syringes with detachable needles. The researchers observed far less viable virus in insulin syringes with attached needles.

The detachable-needle syringes are used much more commonly by drug abusers outside the United States, but Paintsil cautioned that communities operating needle-exchange programs should be aware of the problems with the tuberculin syringes.

-- Thomas H. Maugh II

Photo credit: Adam Gault / Getty Images