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CDC finds improper handling of chemotherapy drugs

An ongoing research project aims to develop a training prototype for veterinarians, nurses and students.

CDC finds improper handling of chemotherapy drugs

Veterinary professionals have higher exposure to chemotherapy drugs than counterparts in human medicine because they are not taking proper precautions, say researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC research project — “Bridging the Gap between Human and Veterinary Medicine: Different Patients, Same Hazardous Drugs” — identified the challenges veterinary professionals encounter in handling these drugs safely.

Deborah V.L. Hirst, Ph.D., acting deputy chief of the Engineering and Physical Hazards Branch of the CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), said she hopes the project will help bridge a gap between veterinary and human medicine in use of technologies and practices that protect workers against hazardous drug exposure.

“Literature has shown us that cost, time, discomfort and inconvenience are some of the barriers for veterinary health care workers and handling hazardous drugs safely,” Dr. Hirst said. “During our research, we commonly saw workers wear disposable gowns for the entire day of chemotherapy treatments instead of disposing of them after each treatment or wear the gowns until they were visibly damaged.”

They also found some veterinary professionals wearing gowns not rated for chemotherapy use.

The researchers noted that in some veterinary clinics, staff had to sit on the floor to administer treatment for large-breed animals.

“Very few hospitals we visited had hydraulic lift tables,” Dr. Hirst said.

The 2018 project also found not all drugs are treated equally by veterinary professionals.

“For example, when a veterinary health care worker has to prepare the chemotherapy drug Mustargen for a treatment, they wear a disposable gown, respirator and gloves,” she said. “For other drugs like vincristine, the veterinary health care worker will wear only a disposable gown and gloves.

“Whether it is Mustargen or vincristine, these drugs are harmful to workers and can cause adverse health effects. Also, we have seen veterinary technicians remove protective gloves to shave a patient for their treatment or insert a catheter, which puts them at risk for hazardous drug exposure.”

Another difference is some drugs handled in veterinary oncology are not on the current NIOSH hazardous drug list; however, some drug inserts list the adverse health effects of the drug. Therefore, said Dr. Hirst, “It is important for each veterinary hospital to do an inventory of their drugs and know the risk of each one in order to protect their staff.”

The project is funded through September 2020. NIOSH will develop a training prototype for testing with small groups of veterinarians, veterinary nurses and veterinary students once the project ends. Veterinarians will be able to earn continuing education credit.