Two sixth-grade girls accidentally jabbed themselves Monday when they tried to pick up hypodermic needles dumped on an elementary school playground in Kearns, raising fears they may have been exposed to AIDS.
Among the approximately 14 needles and syringes dumped onto the playground at South Kearns Elementary School, 4430 W. 5570 South, were cotton swabs and an empty bottle of hydrogen peroxide. Hydrogen peroxide is used to disinfect skin when an injection is given.In three months the girls will be tested to see if they have been exposed to the virus that causes AIDS, which is sometimes spread by unclean drug needles. It takes that long for the virus to show up.
They also must receive a series of three shots to immunize them against hepatitis-B, a liver disease commonly spread by infected needles used by drug abusers. Hepatitis-B is fatal in about 1 percent of cases, causes serious illness for months in the rest of the cases, and is believed capable of causing liver cancer later.
Hepatitis-B is much more common than AIDS and "about 40 times as infectious as the AIDS virus," said Dr. Harry L. Gibbons, director of the Salt Lake City-County Health Department.
Because the syringes and needles were extremely small, a size often used by diabetics for insulin, or to administer anti-allergy shots, the chance they were contaminated with AIDS is remote. But remote or not, the possibility is frightening to parents.
"It scares me to death," said the mother of one of the girls. She preferred that neither she nor her daughter, who is 11 years old and in the sixth grade, be identified.
"They were on cleanup duty," she said of the two girls who were pricked by the needles. Her daughter's turn to help clean the school grounds comes about four times a year.
The girls spotted trash on a grassy yard where kindergartners play, near a goal post.
"To her it looked like maybe a dog had torn garbage up. So they were picking it up, and noticed there were syringes there, and she was really concerned."
Her daughter's first reaction was to pick up the syringes and take them to the principal, because she was worried that they could hurt the kindergartners.
Some of the needles had plastic caps on, but a couple didn't.
"So in order to protect themselves, she was going to put the cap on. One girl held the syringe while she went to put the lid on. It slid through the top, right through the plastic sheeting, and poked her in the finger."
One syringe, which the girls didn't touch, had an orange material in it.
Cathryn Perryman, principal of South Kearns Elementary, said she first learned of the problem Monday morning when students started coming in with syringes.
Perryman said the other girl was stuck when she didn't notice that a needle was sticking through a cap.
"We don't know if someone improperly disposed of needles that might have been used for insulin or allergy shots . . . . That's why we were very concerned, because we just didn't know the origin of the needles," Perryman said.
Children threw about 10 of the hypodermics in a Dumpster and brought four to her. Toxic-waste specialists had to dump the material from the Dumpster.
Perryman said once or twice before in the four years she's been at South Kearns, children have brought in a similar needle.
Gibbons said Friday this is a good time to warn people about the danger from medical waste.
He said he wants to say, "World, we're in a different situation. Blood has got to be considered a hazardous substance."
In addition to the playground incident, he said, personnel at a shipping facility recently found blood from a broken container.
"They cleaned up the blood without protecting themselves. The blood, which was being shipped to a laboratory, was probably contaminated with the AIDS virus."
Gibbons said he wants to emphasize that everyone should realize that contact with material associated with blood or skin penetration should be treated as a hazardous exposure.