Dirty needles present public health hazard

MORGANTOWN – The risk of Hepatitis, HIV and other infectious diseases goes hand-in-hand with the problem of used hypodermic needles that have become an all too common sight on the ground in the Morgantown area.

A byproduct of the drug addiction and use problem in the city, the dirty needles present a public health hazard.

“These needles can transmit infection. HIV virus can stay alive in the needles or up to two week and Hepatitis C can stay alive even longer,” explained Dr. Archana Vasudevan, an infectious disease physician at Mon Health Wound and Vein Center.

The public health concern is two-fold, volunteers or innocent bystanders who are accidentally pricked by a discarded needle are at risk of contracting a serious infection or other disease. Also, drug addicts who may reuse a needle and syringe found on the ground are at a greater risk of infecting themselves.

“The rate of Hepatitis C in West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky has gone up by 384 percent and that’s data from 2015,” said Dr. Vasudevan. “I can only imagine it has gone up exponentially since then.”

The spread of infectious diseases, including HIV and AIDS was of particular concern of Morgantown 7th Ward City Councilman Barry Wendell during last week’s workshop discuss a proposal to install sharps containers at various locations in the city to collect discarded needles.

“First we have an immediate issues we have to deal with,” Wendell stated during the meeting. “People from Health Right and the police department know where to put them. I think we should put this up. Everything else we can deal with later but that’s the first thing.”

Milan Puskar Health Right has offered to purchase, install and maintain the sharps containers, an offer that was first presented to the city in October.

Installing the containers seems to have the support of a majority of council but there are differences of opinion on how quickly the city should proceed. Mayor Bill Kawecki, Deputy Mayor Rachel Fetty and Councilwoman Jenny Selin, as does City Manager Paul Brake, favor a more deliberate approach, gathering more information before signing off on sites to locate the containers.

Where ever the containers end up being located, Dr. Vasudevan insists the date shows that limiting exposure to used and dirty needles will reduce the spread of infectious diseases.