The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is warning health care providers and people with diabetes against sharing insulin pens, a practice just as dangerous as sharing syringes, reports HealthDay News.

The CDC alert came in response to some health care providers being caught using insulin pens on multiple diabetes patients. Sharing the pens possibly exposes the users to bloodborne microorganisms such as HIV and hepatitis.

Insulin pens are easy-to-hold injector devices shaped like a pen that contain insulin cartridges or a reservoir of insulin. For convenience, pens are designed to be used multiple times on a single person after replacing a used needle with a fresh, unused one for each injection. But studies prove both blood and skin cells can enter cartridges when insulin is administered. That means health care providers should always use one insulin pen on one patient.

As insulin pens become more popular in hospitals, assisted living facilities and clinics, it has become even more important to warn folks that while it’s OK to reuse one pen on the same patient, it’s very dangerous to use the same pen on multiple patients. Changing the needle on the insulin pen or syringe does not make it safe for reuse on additional patients, the CDC clarified. In addition, insulin pens should also not be shared within a single family.

Despite a series of warnings, the CDC has continued to receive reports of insulin pen sharing, sometimes accidental and other times because health care providers were unaware of the risks that insulin pen sharing poses. Everyone who uses an insulin pen regularly or supervises its use should be made familiar with infection-control procedures regarding insulin pens, the CDC stressed.

To help keep track of which pens are assigned to specific individuals, CDC guidelines recommend labeling insulin pens with a patient’s name or other identifying information to make sure the pen is only authorized for use on that person. In addition, the CDC also recommended hospitals and other facilities review their policies and educate staff about the safe use of insulin pens and similar devices. What’s more, if insulin pens are reused, health care providers should immediately notify patients and offer appropriate follow-up, including blood testing to identify disease-causing germs.

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