If you see a discarded needle, you can choose to dispose of it yourself, or you can call for help. (There is contact information provided below.) You do not need to be afraid if you are cautious, as the risk of injury or infection are low.
What to do if you find a used needle on the street
- Use a pair of tongs, pliers or tweezers to pick up the needle. It is best to wear rubber gloves.
- Pick the needle up by pointing the needle tip down and away from you.
- Put the needle in a container that has been placed on a stable surface. A sharps container, bleach container, or plastic peanut butter jar work well. You should not use a glass jar, light plastic container, or a milk carton, as they could break or needles could poke through.
- Do not try to put the cap back on the needle.
- Wash your hands with soap and warm water.
- Take the container to a pharmacy or to SOLID
If you see uncapped needles in public areas, feel free to use the above instructions to pick them up. Other options are call us (it may be on one of our regular outreach routes) at 250-298-9497. Or, if it’s in the downtown core, call the DVBA’s Clean Team for pickups, 386-2238.
When to call for help
- If you are too nervous to pick it up.
- If you see many needles in a pile, for example, in a stairwell or behind a dumpster.
- If you see broken needles scattered on the ground.
- If you have no way of taking the needle in a strong container to a safe place.
What are the risks?
We know picking up other people’s garbage with bare hands is not a good idea because it’s an easy way to spread infection. Needles are like other garbage. Picking up needles with your bare hands is a way to get infected if you have an open cut. When a person finishes using a needle, some of that person’s blood may still be inside the needle or syringe. If you get poked by a needle, you could get sick as well.
Most people will not get sick by picking up or being poked by a used needle. When viruses in needles are exposed to the open air, the viruses usually die. There is no way to know how long a needle has been lying where you found it, so it is best to be safe.
- You may get tetanus.
- You may get a Staphylococcus Aureus infection.
- You may get hepatitis B.
- You are at risk getting hepatitis C, but the risk is negligible.
- You are extremely unlikely to get HIV because the virus does not live in the air for more than a few minutes. No one has ever gotten HIV from a needle stick injury from an abandoned needle.*
* BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS; Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network
What should you do if you get poked by a needle?
If you have been poked by a needle or other sharp object that you suspect has been in contact with blood or a body fluid containing blood.
- Wash the affected body part with soap and water;
- Disinfect with an alcohol swab;
- Apply a band aid.
Call VIHA Communicable Disease Program (weekdays 8:30—4:30) at 1-866- 665-6626 or go to the emergency room for assessment.
If the injury happens when you are at work, be sure to tell your immediate supervisor.