Fingerstick Device Infection Warning Issued by FDA and CDC

Federal regulators are warning nursing homes, hospitals and health care providers that they are seeing an alarming number of hospital infections caused by the use of fingerstick devices on multiple patients. 

The FDA and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a joint safety alert this week reminding health care workers nationwide not to break one of the cardinal rules of infection control by reusing needles of any kind. Officials say they have seen a steadily increasing number of blood borne hospital acquired infections over the past 10 to 15 years caused by the reuse of fingersticks, small lancets designed to cause a patient’s finger to bleed to get a small blood sample.

The most notable increase has been the spread of Hepatitis B infections in nursing homes, both in long-term care and assisted living settings. However, the increases are present in a wide variety of health care settings.

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The fingersticks are often packaged with point of care blood testing devices, such as blood glucose meters and cholesterol testing devices. Although fingersticks are often designed for multiple uses, they are meant to only be used on one patient before being discarded. Too often, federal regulators warn, nursing home staff and other health care providers are using them on multiple patients, aiding in the spread of disease.

Hepatitis B is a viral infection that attacks the liver. Symptoms can vary widely, with some patients being completely asymptomatic, others experiencing acute viral hepatitis, and some patients developing fatal liver disease. It is estimated that one-third of the world’s population now carries the disease, particularly in third-world countries and places with poor health care.

The FDA and CDC warning indicates that the agencies have noticed that some legally marketed fingerstick devices have been cleared and advertised for use on more than one patient, a practice that the federal medical device safety regulators say they will soon put to an end.

The agencies offered the following recommendations to nursing homes and health care providers:

  • Never use a fingerstick device on more than one person.
  • When possible, use auto-disabling, single-use fingerstick devices that have needles which retract or otherwise become unusable after one use. They are sometimes referred to as safety lancets.
  • Whenever possible, use POC devices such as blood glucose meters with only one patient instead of using the same device to measure several patients.
  • Always change gloves between patients, even when all of the above tips are followed.

According to the CDC, there are more than 2 million hospital infections acquired each year, resulting in about 90,000 deaths annually. Another 1.5 million long term care and nursing home infections occur every year.


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