Sharing needles when injecting drugs can greatly increase the risk of getting HIV. While in one respect the best way to keep such individuals from contracting HIV is to get them off drugs, another alternative may be available that is more likely to be pursued – a new design of syringes that may make it possible to prevent HIV from being passed along in this manner in the first place.

A recently conducted and published study has shown that when needles have less dead space in them, they are less likely to spread a blood-borne illness like HIV. The means by which blood is spread from individual to individual while sharing needles is that a small amount of blood is left in dead space of the syringe when depressed.

The researchers were able to show that this amount of blood can be reduced by up to 1000 times (an almost insignificant amount) when a different type of syringe with less dead space is used.

What is the significance of this study? It shows that an extreme increase or decrease in the likelihood of the spread of disease occurs when sharing needles, depending on the types of needles being used. China, Russia, and Ukraine are just a few of the nations that would benefit significantly from a switch to needles with less dead space – they are among the nations with the highest incidence of HIV contracted from needle sharing.

The study showed that in these and other nations, the number of cases caused by needles could be reduced to zero within a decade. These nations are being called upon by the study to spread awareness of the potential of alternative needles in HIV prevention.

The effects could be even greater than expected, because many individuals who contract HIV through drugs may well then pass it along through sex – by stopping the spread of HIV through needle users, it may also reduce the number of cases spread through sexual relations.

While there are obstacles to implementing this new needle design, it is hoped that the low cost and high benefit will result in many more nations joining the call to spread awareness.