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Reducing the risk of infections when injecting

Infections happen when bacteria or viruses enter your bloodstream, most often through:

  • dirt and debris, including dirty water
  • blood and other body fluids

Avoiding infection means trying to avoid contact with these things. There is always some risk of infection when injecting, but this guide will help you reduce it.

Preparing a safer space

Step 1

Where possible, choose a space that is warm, clean and dry. It should also be well lit and have running water and soap for cleaning up.

Step 2

Before preparing your space, wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

Watch a video: How to fully wash your hands

If you don’t have soap and water, you can use new alcohol swabs or hand sanitiser gel.

  • If you use swabs, use a swiping motion in just one direction. Do not rub the swabs in a circle or back and forth: this can spread dirt and bacteria around.
  • If you use hand sanitiser gel, do not wipe your hands afterwards: this can make them dirty again. Let your hands air dry for at least 10 seconds, then rub them together.

Step 3

Clear the space by removing any old needles or other debris – especially things that could have touched someone’s blood or body fluids.

Step 4

Wipe the surface down with soap and water. If you don’t have soap and water, you can use alcohol swabs or hand sanitiser gel.

Step 5

If you can, lay out a disposable surface for your injecting equipment, like a sheet of newspaper, magazine or paper towel.

Preparing your injecting equipment

Step 1

Wash your hands (see Step 2 above).

Step 2

Lay out your equipment. If any of your equipment is in sterile packaging, don’t remove it until you’re ready to use it.

Re-used needles and syringes are the main cause of infection when injecting. If you can, use a new sterile needle and syringe every time. You can get all the equipment you need from a needle and syringe service.

If you do have to re-use a syringe, clean it before and after you use it with thin bleach and water.

Watch a video: How to clean a syringe

Never share a needle or syringe. Sharing anything that has touched blood can cause infection.

Step 3

Prepare your water. Dirty water can be a source of infection, so it’s important to use the safest water you can find.

  • An unused and unopened sterile water ampoule (amp) is the safest thing to use. You can sometimes get these from the needle and syringe service, although supplies can be limited. You can also buy them online.
  • Boiled then cooled water is the next best thing. Use the water as soon as it has cooled: water that has been in the kettle for a while is more likely to contain bacteria.
  • Cold water from a kitchen tap is the next best thing. Avoid bathroom taps, as this water can come from a storage tank.
  • Bottled water could be contaminated, even if it’s sealed. It’s better to use fresh tap water.

Always avoid these if you can

Shared cups of water: Get a fresh cup instead

Partly used water amps: These could be contaminated, so use fresh tap water instead.

Toilet water: This has a major risk of bacteria. Instead, try looking for empty bottles you can fill from a tap. If there is no alternative, try to use water that runs down the rim of the toilet when you flush it – not water that has been standing in the bowl.

Water from puddles: This is too dangerous even as a last resort. Try asking people for almost-empty bottles of water.

See how to cook and draw up more safely.