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First responders facing dangers from discarded needles

WATCH ABOVE: A Saskatoon police officer was poked by a used needle while searching a stolen vehicle, highlighting the dangers first responders face dealing with discarded needles. Meaghan Craig reports.

There are a myriad of dangers that first responders in Saskatoon face when they arrive on scene, but increasingly one of those hazards is used needles.

Over the weekend, an officer had to be taken to hospital and receive treatment.  He apprehended a suspect in the 500-block of Avenue J South, searched the stolen vehicle, recovering a shotgun and bear spray, then poked himself on a dirty uncapped needle.

READ MORE: Saskatoon police officer poked by used needle during stolen vehicle search

“These kinds of hazards are a daily event for us in Saskatoon,” acting Saskatoon police Supt. Randy Huisman said.

“With searching people, searching vehicles, searching people incident to arrest.”

The officer was wearing leather gloves at the time and was taken to hospital for treatment which included drugs to combat any communicable diseases.

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It’s an unnerving incident that might be far from over. According to Huisman, the officer could be facing ongoing medical appointments for the next year.

“You can only imagine what’s going through that officer’s mind – he’s a young man, he’s got a family at home and you know he’s concerned that he potentially could infect others.”

Pokes at the police department happen about once year, but Huisman said, on a monthly basis, officers are being bit or spit on by suspects under arrest.

Troy Davies, with MHS West.
Troy Davies, with MHS West.

It’s for that reason paramedics at Medavie Health Services West (MHS West) have started to wear safety goggles and do a full-body pat down on scene in search of syringes.

“You have to remain calm, collected and remember it’s your safety first when dealing with these types of patients and to make sure that you’re doing full precautions before you get into your treatment phase of the patient,” MHS West spokesperson Troy Davies said.

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In terms of transmission said Davies, the biggest concern is hepatitis C and HIV. Historically, Saskatchewan has had some of the highest rates of HIV in the country as a result of IV drug use.

“I think it’s in the back of our minds all the time whether it is going to a medical scene or going to fire sometimes we’re crawling around in a home where you can’t see where you’re going,” Saskatoon Fire Department assistant chief Wayne Rodger said.

“We try to be as careful as we can but sometimes it can be quite challenging.”

Both MHS West and the fire department said their scares with used needles are few and far between, but that it is always a risk.

When it comes to police, at the time of an incident a suspect can be asked to voluntarily give a sample to be checked for infectious diseases. If they refuse, police can request a court order to retrieve one.

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