A Penticton woman is calling for action regarding discarded needles in parks after her niece was allegedly poked by a discarded needle in Skaha Lake Park on Tuesday afternoon.
Danni Hyde said her son, Hudson, 4, was playing with his sister and cousin, when he carried back an orange needle cap and said her niece’s “foot hurts.”
Hyde went to investigate and discovered the needle at the base of a tree mixed in among pine cones and pine needles, while recording the incident on her cell phone.
Horrified by what happened, she ran with the children to her first-aid kit and put iodine on her niece’s puncture wound and used an isopropyl wipe to clean the bacteria off of her toe.
“My niece was at the hospital for about three hours last night,” she told Global News.
Hyde said her niece must undergo blood work again in two weeks to ensure she did not contract HIV or hepatitis B or C.
WATCH: Discarded needles a hazard for workers in recycling business (April 2019)
“It’s very unsettling to worry about her health over the coming months while drug users get handed free needles and then discard them carelessly in children’s parks around Penticton,” Hyde said.
Hyde is calling on the city to improve public safety in public parks and beaches.
“My suggestion would be to turn on the underground irrigation systems every 30 minutes for five minutes each night, between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. This would beautify our green spaces and discourage users from setting up camp in our kid zones around town.”
Meanwhile, alarmed by the increase in discarded needles, concerned citizens Tyson Miller and Jennifer Young started a new community group called Project Penticton.
They’re planning a group cleanup Saturday morning at 8 a.m., starting at the SS Sicamous and winding their way down the Okanagan Lake beach waterfront.
“One little girl being poked by a needle is one too many, and the community is clamoring for change,” Miller said in an email.
Young, who is a mother of three, said Penticton needs a safe injection site, as well as a needle exchange program.
“I am absolutely against the free needle program and I don’t believe that handing out free needles is a viable plan at this point,” she said.
The City of Penticton is scheduled to meet with representatives from the Interior Health Authority (IHA) on Thursday for the purpose of discussing sharps in the community, and how their safe disposal can be managed.
“While this issue is not unique to Penticton, a solution for our community needs to be arrived at quickly,” Penticton mayor John Vassilaki said in a statement.
“Accidental encounters of carelessly discarded sharps, combined with the manner and volume in which they are being distributed, must be examined closely and an effective multi-party solution arrived at as soon as possible.”
Chief administrative officer Donny van Dyk said city staff are working on recommendations to bring forward to city council to combat the issue.
“Restrictions on the supply of non-retractable needles are one of many options being evaluated to potentially bring forward for council’s consideration,” he said in an email.
A retractable needle is one that retracts into the barrel following injection to protect against accidental needle-sticks.
In May, the superintendent of the Okanagan-Skaha school district also raised the alarm about an increase in needles recovered from school property.
Dr. Karin Goodison, medical health officer with Interior Health, said she understands the anxiety and concerns that parents and community members have around improperly discarded needles and needle stick injuries.
WATCH: Escalating problem with needles left on Penticton school grounds (May 2019)
Goodison said the risk of getting sick from a needle poke is extremely low and there are no documented cases of HIV infection occurring as a result of an accidental needle stick injury. And if previously vaccinated for hepatitis B, the risk of HBV transmission is virtually zero.
“Although the risk of disease transmission is extremely low, we know this is still a concern, and effective retrieval and disposal of improperly discarded needles is a priority,” she said.
Interior Health said a needle distribution policy was introduced in 2002, supported by the BC Centre for Disease Control, Ministry of Health and the Best Practice Recommendations for Canadian Harm Reduction Programs.
“Needle distribution programs in British Columbia are evidence based and have played an important role in reducing the rate of illnesses, including hepatitis C and HIV over the last 16 years,” she said in an email.
“By reducing rates of blood borne infections, programs like needle distribution are able to reduce healthcare costs, demand on resources and the risk of disease transmission.”