1Nicola Coppola, Stefania De Pascalis, Lorenzo Onorato, Federica Calò, Evangelista Sagnelli, Department of Mental Health and Public Medicine, Section of Infectious Diseases, Second University of Naples, 80131 Naples, Italy.
Approximately 3 million healthcare workers per year receive an injury with an occupational instrument, with around 2000000 exposures to hepatitis B virus (HBV) and 1000000 to hepatitis C virus (HCV). Although an effective HBV vaccine has been available since the early eighties, and despite the worldwide application of universal vaccination programs started in the early nineties, HBV still remains a prominent agent of morbidity and mortality. There is no vaccine to limit the diffusion of HCV infection, which progresses to chronicity in the majority of cases and is a major cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide due to a chronic liver disease. Healthcare workers are frequently exposed by a mucosal-cutaneous or percutaneous route to accidental contact with human blood and other potentially infectious biological materials while carrying out their occupational duties. Mucosal-cutaneous exposure occurs when the biological material of a potentially infected patient accidentally comes in contact with the mucous membranes of the eyes or mouth or with the skin of a healthcare worker. Percutaneous exposure occurs when an operator accidentally injures himself with a sharp contaminated object, like a needle, blade or other sharp medical instrument. About 75% of the total occupational exposure is percutaneous and 25% mucosal-cutaneous, the risk of infecting a healthcare worker being higher in percutaneous than in mucosal-cutaneous exposure. All healthcare workers should be considered for HBV vaccination and should meticulously apply the universal prophylactic measures to prevent exposure to HBV and HCV.