• Shruti GOCHHWAL

Occupational Exposure To Blood Borne Pathogens

What Are Blood borne Pathogens?

Blood borne pathogens are microbes present in human blood that can infect and cause disease who are exposed to blood containing pathogens. Hepatitis virus and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) are the two most common and prevalent blood borne pathogens that cause diseases.

Who Are At Risk Of Infection?

Healthcare workers

Nurses in a hospital, Credits: pixabay


It is estimated by in the Centers of Control and Prevention of Diseases (CDC) that over 5.6 million health professionals in the healthcare profession are subjected to bloodborne pathogens. Health care personnel include people involved in medical, surgical, dental, emergency response, and public safety.

If an individual is exposed to a specific exposure, the risk of infection may vary, depending upon the:

  1. Pathogen involved

  2. Type of exposure

  3. Amount of blood involved in the exposure

  4. Amount of virus in the patient’s blood at the time of exposure

How Serious Are The Blood borne Pathogens?

HIV

HIV is common in the United States and over 1.2 million individuals in the United States live with HIV. The white blood cells are attacked and the immune system is disrupted by HIV. Anywhere between 2 and 10 years, HIV infection can evolve into AIDS. Sexual contact is the usual way of transmission.

Hepatitis B virus (HBV)

Hepatitis B virus

3D view of the Hepatitis B virus, Credits: pixabay


The most prevalent form of hepatitis is the hepatitis B virus (HBV) and there are approximately 18,800 new cases each year. HBV causes inflammation of the liver. The bad part is 80% of people who are infected are not aware that they carry the infection.

This virus may survive and remain potentially infectious for up to a week or longer on contaminated surfaces. Some of the symptoms of HBV include fatigue, weight loss, fever, or diarrhea.

Blood, saliva, and other body fluids may be infected. The virus can be spread to family members, unborn infants, and sexual partners. Luckily, there is a vaccine for HBV.

How Blood borne Pathogens Enter The Body?

Bloodborne pathogens can enter via sharp contaminated objects

A sharp knife, Credits: pixabay


Blood borne pathogens enter the body through open cuts, abrasions on the skin, dermatitis, acne, and the mucous membranes of your mouth, eyes, or nose.

Sometimes the infection is also possible by cutting yourself with a contaminated sharp object such as broken glass, sharp metal, needles, knives, and exposed ends of orthodontic wires.

The blood borne pathogens are usually not transmitted through casual contact but an intimate contact.

What Is OSHA?

Because of the increasing spread of blood borne diseases, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) passed the Blood borne Pathogens regulation.

These guidelines help the employees to follow certain standard operating procedures while handling the blood samples and helps prevent the risk of acquiring a bloodborne disease. Every organization must develop its exposure control plan.

This plan should outline the precautions to be followed in the workspace, Engineering Controls, Safe Work Practices, Personal Protective Equipment, and Good Housekeeping Practices.

Though not every employee is occupationally exposed to blood borne pathogens, every employee must understand the risks of infection and safe practices to minimize that risk.

What are the Precautions to Follow?

All blood samples should be handled with care as if they contain bloodborne pathogens. The following steps should be followed.

  1. Hand Hygiene

  2. Gloves

  3. Masks and Gowns

  4. Disposal of Infectious Waste

  5. Discarding Body Waste

  6. Vaccination

Hand Hygiene

Hand Hygiene

A woman washing hands, Credits: pixabay


You must follow hand hygiene measures after contact with patients, patient samples like blood or body fluids, equipment like stethoscope, and emesis basin.

  1. You must wash your hands with soap under steam of running water for 15 seconds.

  2. Rinse your hands well with running water and dry with paper towels.

  3. Turn off the faucet with a dry paper towel.

Gloves

  1. When you expect direct contact with body fluids, you should wear gloves.

  2. Gloves should not be reused.

  3. You should not wear or wear very minimum jewelry when handling blood samples.

  4. Remove your gloves properly and dispose of it in a lined waste container.

  5. After removal of the gloves, hands should be washed by following the above procedure.

Masks and Gowns

Safety measures

A workerwearing gloves, mask, and protective wear, Credits: pixabay


When you feel that there is a risk of a splash, spatter, or spray or blood or other infectious materials, you must wear masks, eye shields, and protective eyewear. If necessary, wear gowns with long sleeves to protect clothing from splash.

Disposal of Infectious Waste

Safety measures

Biohazard symbol, Credits: pixabay


All used contaminated supplies like gloves and other barriers, sanitary napkins,band-aids should be disposed of in plastic bags with biohazard labels visible.

Needles, syringes, and other sharp objects should be placed immediately after use in a metal or other puncture-proof container that is leak-proof on the bottom and sides. Broken glass should never be picked up by hand and should be disposed of in a metal or other puncture-proof container. For example, after a needle stick or sharps exposure to HCV-positive blood, the risk of HCV infection is approximately 1.8 percent.

Discarding Body Waste

Clean contaminated area with bleach

Bleach, Credits: pixabay


  1. Body waste (urine, vomitus, and feces) should be disposed of in the toilet.

  2. If body fluids are accidentally spilled, they should be covered with an absorbent sanitary material, gently swept up, and discarded in plastic bags.

  3. Spills of blood and body fluids should be cleaned up immediately with an approved disinfectant cleaner. A 1:10 solution of household bleach and water is effective against HIV.

  4. Accidental exposure to blood and body fluids also poses a significant risk of infection. The risk depends on the type of body fluid and the type of infection. Whatever the case maybe, wash the contaminated area immediately with water.

Vaccination

HBV vaccination

Administration of vaccine, Credits: pixabay


  1. Healthcare workers should be vaccinated for hepatitis B virus, within 10 days of assignment to a job that involves the chances of occupational risk of bloodborne pathogens.

  2. In cases, if the person feels that he is exposed to bloodborne pathogens, he has to be administered an HBV vaccine within 24 hours of the time of exposure.

  3. The vaccine is found to be effective for up to 72 hours post-exposure as it is when given prophylactically before exposure.

  4. Since there are no vaccines for HIV, an anti-retroviral drug therapymust be initiated within 72 hours of possible exposure.

Take-Home Message

Proper precautions should be followed to avoid the risk of exposure to bloodborne pathogens.

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