Volume 5, No. 1 • Spring 1990

Dangers of Syringe Contamination Cited

Henry L. Sherwood, M.D.

To the Editor

If your anesthesiologist told you he was going to give you a cc. of fentanyl from a syringe that was used on nine other patients during the past five days, you would be horrified. Unbeknownst to patients, this happens every day.

A poster presentation at the 1989 S.A.M.B.A. Meeting, “Bacterial contamination of Anesthesia Syringes’, looked at this issue with surprising candor. The study evaluated the bacterial contamination of syringes used to administer anesthetic medication. No bacterial contamination was found although 22 percent of these syringes were used on multiple patients and 13 percent were used on multiple days!

In the days before AIDS, many of us used the same syringes on multiple patients or the same succinylcholine drip on two or three patients. Even with the AIDS crisis, many anesthesia personnel find it too wasteful or too much bother to use new syringes on every patient. This poster is evidence that this is a problem at many institutions.

The ASA’s Surgical Committee statement on reuse of syringes was made several years ago with very little publicity or fanfare. This APSF Newsletter is an excellent forum to reiterate the concept that such practice is unacceptable.

Henry L. Sherwood, M.D. Annapolis, MD


  1. Ryckman, ST. Bacterial Contamination of Anesthesia Syringes, poster presentation; Society of Ambulatory Anesthesia, San Antonio, 1989.