Bloodborne pathogens are a big risk for people who work in the healthcare field or any profession that deals with blood and other bodily fluids such as synovial fluid and amniotic fluid. These pathogens can potentially result in illnesses when you have contact with blood or other potentially infectious materials. Luckily, there are things that you can do to reduce your risk of exposure to pathogens, such as following standard precautions and having a bloodborne pathogens exposure control plan.
However, the preventive measures vary from one type of pathogen to another. So, if you are a worker who is at risk of occupational exposure, read on to know how infectious materials can be transmitted and how you can prevent the exposure.
What are the Most Common Bloodborne Pathogens?
- Hepatitis B virus
- Hepatitis C virus
- Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)
These Bloodborne pathogens can be transmitted by percutaneous injuries from needles or other sharp objects or by contact with mucous membranes or injured skin with blood or other infectious body fluids.
Hepatitis B Virus:
Hepatitis B (HBV) is an infectious disease that affects the liver. Studies carried out in 2015 by the world health organization reveal that 257 million were living with the hepatitis B virus. Among these, 887,000 lost their lives to the virus.
Some people with the virus can stay as asymptomatic for a long. The common symptoms of hepatitis B include abdominal pain, vomiting, nausea, extreme fatigue, dark urine, and jaundice or yellowing of eyes and skin. For a smaller percentage of infected persons, the virus can lead to chronic illnesses such as hepatocellular carcinoma and cirrhosis.
Modes of Transmission:
- It is commonly transmitted from mother to child during childbirth.
- Transmission is also through exposure to blood with infected human blood and bodily fluids. This cross-transmission is common in children below 5years.
- Through unprotected sex with an infected person, which is common in people who have sex with casual sex workers, men having sex with men, and persons with multiple sex partners.
- Sharing of items such as injection needles and syringes in health care facilities and persons who inject drugs.
- Piercing or other sharp items contaminated with the virus can also lead to infections such as tattooing and injuries from items containing the virus.
Also Read- Bloodborne Pathogens- Know Your Risk
How to Prevent Hepatitis B?
There is no known cure for Hepatitis B. However, it is preventable through Hepatitis B Vaccine and following standard precautions. Infants receive the vaccine soon after birth to reduce the risk of infection and other subsequent two to three doses after every four weeks. Expectant mothers infected with the virus should receive a particular dose to minimize the risk of transmission at delivery. The hepatitis B vaccine is 99 to 100 percent effective in preventing infection. The vaccine is available for all ages.
Hepatitis B virus can remain on surfaces for seven days. During this period, the virus can cause infections when exposed to open skin or mucous membrane exposure of unvaccinated persons. As a result, certain persons are at an increased risk of exposure. These include persons in constant contact with body fluids and blood, such as healthcare workers and persons with multiple sex partners. The spread is also possible at places of work. There are various ways through which one can protect themselves from the exposure to hepatitis B virus:
Handwashing with soap and water kills viruses. It is also recommended that one uses hand sanitizers to disinfect their hands regularly when traveling. Another way of preventing yourself from infection is by avoiding touching the face and eyes, which is one of the common ways of transferring pathogens.
The Use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE):
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) are items commonly used by medical practitioners to protect themselves from getting in contact with bloodborne pathogens. They include gloves, face shields, gowns, eye protection, and pocket masks.
- Latex gloves and gowns help protect the user from blood and body fluids exposure.
- Eye protection and face shields help users protect their eyes and mucus membranes of the eyes, nose, and mouth from contact with infected blood and body fluids.
- Pocket masks are equipment used to protect rescuers from contracting illnesses while performing CPR and rescue breathing (mouth-to-mouth resuscitation).
Protection during housekeeping practices:
When cleaning surfaces, especially public places, it is critical to take precautions. Hepatitis B viruses remain on surfaces for long periods of up to seven days. Therefore, all blood stains are treated as potentially infected. When cleaning surfaces that contain body fluids and blood, wash hands before putting on gloves. Do not use worn-out or torn personal protective equipment. Protect yourself from splashing by use of a face shield and gown. Shoe covers and boots should be used, especially when cleaning large floor spills. Disinfection chemicals should always be used primarily in health care facilities and toilets.
Hepatitis C (HCV):
Hepatitis C virus results in severe liver infections. The infection can lead to (acute hepatitis) short or long-term (chronic infection) illnesses, depending on the infection. Acute hepatitis C infection occurs within six months of exposure to the virus. If acute hepatitis is left untreated, the virus results in chronic infections in the form of liver damage, liver cancer, and cirrhosis.
The disease symptoms include loss of appetite, yellowing of eyes and skin, feeling tired, joint pain, light-colored stool, dark urine, fever, stomach pain, and vomiting. The symptoms only occur at the acute stage of the illness. Persons with chronic infection experience fatigue and depression. Modes of hepatitis C transmission are similar to those of hepatitis B, and they include:
- During birth where infected mothers transmit it to the child.
- The use of drug injection items by multiple people.
- Having sex with an infected person.
- Healthcare workers can also contact the virus from patients when proper precautions are not considered.
- During tattooing and piercing done with non sterilized equipment.
- Sharing of personal items such as toothbrushes, shavers, and razors, among others.
- During organ transplant and blood transfusion.
The preventive measures for hepatitis C are similar to that for hepatitis B. However, hepatitis C can’t be vaccinated. There are, however, certain drugs that, once taken, have a 95% chance of curing the illness.
Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV):
The human immunodeficiency virus attacks the CD4 cells that help the body fight infections and causes the body to weaken in its ability to fight infections. The virus can remain in the system without showing symptoms. The symptoms of the disease only start appearing at the AIDS stage. Like other bloodborne pathogens, transmission is through contact with body fluids: semen, vaginally discharge, and blood from infected persons. Most people contract the illness through unprotected sex with infected persons.
How to Prevent HIV?
The following precautions must be followed to avoid prevent HIV exposure:
Safe use of needles:
According to the OSHA Bloodborne Pathogens Standard recommendations, contaminated needles and other contaminated sharps shall not be bent, recapped, or removed unless the employer can demonstrate that no alternative is feasible or requires such action by a specific medical or dental procedure.
Use of Condoms:
It is important to treat everyone with suspicion and use condoms when having vaginal and anal sex to avoid exposure to HIV-infected blood. The virus is transmitted when the virus is carried in semen and vaginal secretions enter the body through the mucus membranes. Therefore, person who have been exposed to HIB should always follow barrier precautions during sexual activity.
Use of PrEP or Pre-exposure Prophylaxis:
PrEP is a drug used by persons at high risk of contracting HIV-Infected Blood to reduce the risk of contracting the virus. The drug lowers the risk of getting HIV from sexual contact by more than 90%. It is recommended that person’s at high risk of infection use PrEP and condoms during anal and vaginal sex. The drugs are safe with the least side effects and are less harmless.
Some of these side effects include headache, nausea, and loss of appetite. These side effects subside with continued use and should not interfere with the help of the medicine. People who use the drug include sex workers, persons whose partners are infected with the virus, and anyone at risk of exposure. Persons who use the PrEP should undergo an HIV test every three months. Though minimum, if you are infected with HIV while on PrEP, you should discontinue the use as the drug makes the virus more difficult to contain. The drug’s effectiveness in containing HIV depends on the consistency of use.
The use of PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis):
PEP is a drug that prevents the infection of HIV after possible contact with blood. To be effective, the drug is taken less than 72 hours after potential exposure to the virus. The earlier you start on the medication, the more likely it is to work in preventing HIV infection. People using PEP should take precautions to protect their partners by using condoms while having sex.
This drug is recommended for persons who have been sexually assaulted or victims of rape and health providers who might have been exposed to the virus while attending to patients. The drug is not a substitute for HIV containment drugs and should not be used for treatment. It is also essential to keep in mind that the PEP is not suitable for a person in constant exposure to the virus.
Precautions When Taking Care of people with HIV:
A person taking care of HIV patients in and out of hospital are also at risk of occupational exposure. If you are taking care of people with HIV-infected blood, you should take the following precautions to avoid exposure to blood and other infectious materials:
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Frequently Asked Questions About Bloodborne Pathogens Exposure:
What are Universal Precautions?
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration defines Universal Precautions as an approach to infection control to treat all human blood and body fluids as if they contain bloodborne diseases to avoid exposure to blood and infected body fluids, whatever the infection status is.
How can bloodborne pathogens be transmitted?
Bloodborne Pathogens are mainly transmitted sexually or by blood to blood contact with infected blood or other body fluids contaminated with infected blood. In the workplace, direct exposure can happen through accidental contamination by sharp injuries, such as a needle or broken glass.
Which bloodborne pathogen has the highest risk of transmission?
In the United States, Hepatitis C is the most commonly reported bloodborne infection and a serious public health problem.
What is considered as lowest risk of Bloodborne Pathogen exposure?
Intact skin that has come into contact with blood or other body fluids constitutes a low- or essentially no-risk situation provided the provider has not overlooked any injuries to the patient’s skin such as abrasions, cuts, etc.
Bloodborne infection is a serious concern in health care settings. By following standard precautions and having an exposure control plan, you can protect yourself from the accidental transmission of bloodborne pathogen and other infectious materials found in healthcare settings. Since some bloodborne pathogens have no known cure and others can’t be vaccinated against, it is critical to exercise maximum precautions to protect oneself against possible exposure. Bloodborne Pathogens training provides the necessary skills and knowledge to prevent bloodborne pathogens infection. In addition, interested persons can enroll in online bloodborne pathogen certification programs from certified institutions. These programs are readily available and easily accessible to interested persons. There are no minimum qualifications as they are open even for non-professionals.