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UMass Lowell to study risk of needle injuries

By Used with permission from the Eagle Tribune Online.

By Julie Kirkwood
Staff Writer


Health-care workers are at risk for an accidental needle stick almost anytime a needle tip is exposed. It can happen when they insert a needle into an IV line, when they put a cap on the needle tip and even as they are inserting a used needle into a safety bin.

The University of Massachusetts Lowell announced last week it received a $2 million federal grant to study the risk of needle and sharp-object injuries in the growing field of home health care.

The project, funded by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, will seek to determine how often needle injuries occur, what the barriers are to reporting the injuries and how to educate workers on injury prevention.

In the most serious cases, workers can catch hepatitis or a human immunodeficiency virus through accidental needle sticks.

The risk is something Home Health VNA is already addressing. Two years ago the agency started using safety needles that don't have to be capped. The agency also gives its workers extensive training.

As a result, there were only two needle-stick incidents in fiscal 2004, said Pat Palermo, vice president of external relations, and that's a low number for an agency that makes 1,100 home visits a day in 74 communities in the Merrimack Valley and Southern New Hampshire.

Marijuana and mental illness

Scientists have long kicked around the idea that drug abuse begins as a form of self-medication. Young people who are predisposed to mental illness sometimes take illicit drugs to lift their mood or dull their pain.

A new study in the British Medical Journal refutes that idea, at least when it comes to smoking marijuana.

Scientists followed more than 2,000 young adults in Germany for four years. They found that people who used marijuana were more likely to develop psychiatric problems, such as schizophrenia. Marijuana seemed to bring out the most mental illness symptoms in people who were predisposed at the beginning of the study, through a family history of mental illness, for example.

The most interesting finding, though, the authors said, was that young people were equally as likely to use marijuana no matter what their predisposition for psychiatric conditions. That suggests the increase in psychiatric disorders is really caused by marijuana and is not just a reflection of the users' self-medicating pre-existing conditions. The study was published online Wednesday.

Friends for your heart

A good girlfriend is somebody a woman can trust to discuss intimate matters of the heart.

Now, according to a new study, the number of good friends a woman has may predict how well she will survive heart disease.

A team of scientists in San Diego followed more than 500 women who were suspected of having coronary artery disease. The women who had large circles of friends were less likely to smoke, have high blood pressure, high blood sugar, or be overweight. They also were less likely to die from heart disease over the course of the study.

The researchers, publishing their findings in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine, note that women who had fewer friends also tended to make less money. That, they suggest, might be at the root of the interesting association.