Purpose: To investigate occupational exposures to biological material potentially infected by blood-borne viruses in nursing student population during the course years.
Design and methods: An observational retrospective study was designed. Data were collected in May 2007. Two-thousand-two-hundred-fifteen nursing students from the 3 years of degree course were enrolled in the four Italian universities. A structured questionnaire was constructed and was given out unannounced to nursing students in four universities on a randomly chosen day. The likelihood of association between nursing student exposure and certain assumed risk factors was measured.
Findings: The exposure risk is associated with each study year of nursing students. Specifically, the probability of accidental exposure is reduced significantly with the increase of clinical skills during the training period. The risk for exposure in the 1st year students appears significantly higher than in those of the next years (odds ratio [OR] 1.465; 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.105-1.943). Data highlighted a gradual increase of bio-safety knowledge in nursing students from the 1st to the 3rd years of study. However, a statistically significant association exists only between awareness of a correct use of gloves and exposure risk (OR 0.435; 95%CI 0.227-0.834). Mucocutaneous exposures are more frequent than percutaneous exposures (62.2%), and the hollow-bore needle is the device most often involved. In 42.5% of cases, accidental exposures occurred when nursing students are working alone in a medical ward or surgery area.
Conclusions: During their clinical training, nursing students can encounter a real risk for percutaneous and mucocutaneous exposures to blood potentially infected with blood-borne viruses. However, this risk is reduced with an increase in clinical skills.
Clinical relevance: Results show that some new strategies are necessary for exposure risk reduction such as development of simulation laboratories for nursing practice and the adequate presence of tutors in clinical training education.