A Layman's Guide to Bloodborne Pathogens

If you work in the pharmaceutical industry, you've probably heard of bloodborne pathogens. But if your job doesn't involve direct contact with blood or bodily fluids—and even if it does—you might be confused about exactly what these pathogens are and how they spread. So we'll start by answering those questions. Then we'll take a step back to look at why it's important to understand them and how your organization can protect its employees against infection.

A brief history

The first known case of a bloodborne pathogen was reported in 1864 by John Snow, who identified the source of cholera as contaminated water supplies. It wasn't until the 1960s that researchers began to realize that some diseases could be transmitted through blood transfusions or organ transplants, and not simply through direct contact with infected people. Since then, many new viruses have been discovered and identified as potential threats to healthcare workers--and new regulations have been put in place to protect against them.

The most common pathogens today include:

  • Hepatitis B virus (HBV) - Causes acute hepatitis infection that may lead to chronic liver disease or liver cancer if left untreated
  • Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) - Causes acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), an illness that destroys white blood cells needed for fighting off infections

What are bloodborne pathogens?

Bloodborne pathogens are viruses and bacteria that can be transmitted from one person to another through contact with blood or other body fluids. Examples of bloodborne pathogens include hepatitis B virus (HBV), hepatitis C virus (HCV), human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), and syphilis.

HIV, which causes AIDS, can be transmitted through contact with an infected person's blood or other body fluids. In Canada, it is estimated that more than 1 in 4 people carry HBV; HCV prevalence is estimated at 1 in 20 individuals; while syphilis occurs at the rate of approximately 1 case per 100,000 population per year.

How do you get bloodborne pathogens?

Bloodborne pathogens are transmitted through exposure to blood, body fluids, and tissues. This can occur through direct contact with an infected person or animal. In addition, exposure may also occur through indirect contact with contaminated items or surfaces.

Bloodborne pathogens include hepatitis B virus (HBV), hepatitis C virus (HCV), HIV/AIDS, and human T-lymphotropic virus type 1 (HTLV-1). These diseases can be prevented by using proper safety measures when handling blood as well as following standard precautions when treating patients who may be infected with these diseases.

If you are ever involved in an exposure incident or accident that results in direct contact with blood or other potentially infectious materials (OPIM), report it immediately to your supervisor at work so they can provide proper care for you while keeping everyone else safe from infection as well as determining whether further action needs to be taken--either at home or elsewhere within the facility where you work--to prevent further spread of disease throughout its premises

Exposure control plan vs. universal precautions

Universal precautions are the most basic and important way to prevent exposure to bloodborne pathogens. They include:

  • Using standard precautions for all patients, regardless of their diagnosis or presumed infectious status. This includes not touching body fluids (e.g., blood, semen, vaginal secretions) with bare hands--even if the patient appears healthy--and wearing gloves when appropriate (e.g. when handling contaminated equipment)
  • Proper disposal of contaminated waste; this includes needles used in injections as well as syringes used for drawing blood samples from patients' veins
  • Adhering to a protocol that requires workers who touch body fluids on their skin or clothing during an examination/procedure must change into clean clothing before leaving the room

Is a laboratory licensed for handling bloodborne pathogens?

  • Are you a laboratory?
  • Are you licensed as a class B drug manufacturing facility?

If yes, then you need to have a bloodborne pathogen exposure control plan in place. You also need a biosafety officer who will ensure that your facility follows universal precautions when handling human blood or other potentially infectious materials (OPIM).

  • What equipment do I need in order to handle human blood safely?

You should have:

  • A sharps container for all used needles and other sharp objects
  • A dedicated autoclave for sterilizing contaminated equipment
  • An eyewash station near each workstation where personnel perform procedures involving OPIMs

You know the basics of how to manage risks from exposure to bloodborne pathogens in drug manufacturing.

You now know the basics of how to manage risks from exposure to bloodborne pathogens in drug manufacturing.

You now know what bloodborne pathogens are and how they are transmitted.

You now know that there are two types of exposure control plans: Standard Precautions and Universal Precautions (also known as Bloodborne Pathogen Standards). You also understand that these plans use different levels of risk assessment to determine the appropriate level of protection needed based on the type and amount of blood or OPIM present at each workstation or task area within a facility like ours here at [COMPANY NAME].

You have learned about three different levels for each type of pathogen--low, intermediate, and high--and how they correspond with specific actions taken by employees like us who work around these materials every day!


I hope that this guide has helped you to understand bloodborne pathogens, and how they can affect your workplace. Bloodborne pathogens are a serious issue, but it's important not to panic or overreact when dealing with them. With proper precautions in place, there should be no reason for concern about contracting an illness from coming into contact with someone else's blood--even if that person does have HIV or Hepatitis B!


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