n Occupational Health Southern Africa - Post-exposure prophylaxis protocol for exposure to blood-borne pathogens : an intervention to improve knowledge and practice among medical students in a South African hospital

Volume 26 Number 1
  • ISSN : 1024-6274
  • E-ISSN: 2226-6097


Background: Globally, approximately three million healthcare workers experience a percutaneous injury each year. Medical students are at a particularly high risk of exposure to blood-borne pathogens. Despite this, the rate of non-reporting is still high.

Objectives: The objectives of this study were to describe and improve the knowledge and practice of the post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) protocol among medical students, through the implementation of quality-improvement interventions, with a view to improving the protocol.

Methods: This was an intervention study conducted among third- to fifth-year students, in 2015 and 2016. The quality-improvement interventions took place over 11 months and included the issuing of laminated protocols, posters and lectures. Data from survey questionnaires were used to quantify the impact of these interventions. Student practice was measured by the number of correct steps of the protocol completed. McNemar and Wilcoxon signed-rank tests were used to test differences in the paired categorical data.

Results: Of approximately 750 students who participated in the study intervention, 407 returned the initial questionnaire and 148 returned the post-intervention survey questionnaire. Eighty-six students (21.1%) completed both questionnaires. The blood-borne pathogen exposure rate prior to the intervention period was 28.0%. In the paired group, reporting of exposures increased from 12.2% in 2015 to 31.3% in 2016. Knowledge of the PEP protocol increased significantly in the paired group, from 17.4% to 40.2% (p < 0.001). Prior to the intervention, 91.7% completed fewer than half of the steps of the PEP protocol. This decreased significantly to 69.4% in the paired group, post-intervention (p = 0.03).

Conclusion: Practice of the PEP protocol significantly improved after the intervention was implemented. In addition, there was a significant improvement in the knowledge of students about postexposure management. However, many exposures were still unreported post-intervention, indicating that more work is needed to improve reporting behaviour.

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