Understanding the Risks: Bloodborne Pathogens Explained

Understanding the Risks: Bloodborne Pathogens Explained

Introduction

Bloodborne pathogens are infectious agents that can be transmitted through a variety of routes, including contact with infected blood and body fluids. While these diseases can affect anyone, they pose the greatest risk to healthcare workers and other people who interact with blood or other bodily fluids at work. To reduce your risk of exposure to bloodborne pathogens and protect yourself from potentially life-threatening diseases like hepatitis B and HIV/AIDS, you should understand how these infections spread through occupational settings like hospitals, clinics, dental offices, funeral homes, and other facilities where healthcare is provided.

What is bloodborne pathogen exposure?

Bloodborne pathogens are viruses, bacteria, and parasites that can be transmitted through blood and other bodily fluids. The risk of exposure is greatest if you have a needle stick or cut.

  • Bloodborne pathogens can be present in the blood of people who do not know they have an infection, or those who are asymptomatic (do not show any symptoms).
  • If you come into contact with infected blood, even without being injured yourself, it's important to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water right away - this will help prevent the spread of infection to others who might touch something that has been contaminated with infected material on your hands (like a door handle).

If you are injured, it's important to clean the wound thoroughly with soap and water and then wash your hands. If possible, avoid touching the injury again until your hands have been washed. If at all possible, do not use an alcohol-based sanitizer as this can slow down healing by drying out skin and tissues.

Who is at risk for bloodborne pathogen exposure?

  • Healthcare workers: Healthcare workers are at risk for exposure to bloodborne pathogens because they handle human blood, body fluids, and human tissue on a regular basis. These include doctors, nurses, lab technicians, and staff members who work in medical facilities such as hospitals or clinics.
  • Food service workers: Food service workers also face a high risk of exposure to bloodborne pathogens due to their jobs' proximity to food and drink items that may contain traces of blood (such as raw meat). This includes cooks at restaurants or bars; waiters/waitresses; bartenders; dishwashers; busboys/busgirls; chefs.

If you have been exposed to blood or body fluids that may contain a bloodborne pathogen, it's important to get tested for HIV and other infections.

People who are at risk for exposure to blood or other bodily fluids include healthcare workers, tattoo artists, hairdressers, barbers, and manicurists. People who use intravenous drugs may also be at higher risk of exposure to HIV if they share needles with someone infected with the virus.

If you think that you have been exposed to HIV or other bloodborne pathogens, it's important to get tested as soon as possible. You can also take steps to reduce your risk of becoming infected with HIV by getting vaccinated against hepatitis-B and practicing safer sex (using condoms).

What are the symptoms of bloodborne pathogen exposure?

  • Sore throat
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Headache
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea, which may be bloody if the person has been exposed to HIV or hepatitis-B virus (HBV). 
  • Joint pain and muscle aches, especially in the upper arms or legs.

If you have been exposed, you can get tested for HIV and other infections as soon as possible. If you are not sure if your exposure was a high risk for transmission of a bloodborne pathogen, talk to your doctor about testing options.

How do you prevent yourself from becoming exposed to bloodborne pathogens?

The best way to prevent yourself from becoming exposed to bloodborne pathogens is by using universal precautions. Universal precautions are practices that healthcare workers use to prevent the spread of infection at all times and in all settings, including:

  • Using gloves, masks, eye protection, and protective clothing when working with patients who may have infectious diseases or conditions.
  • Following the manufacturer's instructions for the use of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment)

Infected people may not have any symptoms at all, or they may experience: 

Fever (not everyone has a fever) 

Headache Nausea, and vomiting (known as "nausea and vomiting syndrome," or N/V). Diarrhea, which may be bloody if the person has been exposed to HIV or hepatitis B virus (HBV). 

Joint pain, and muscle aches, especially in the upper arms or legs.

If you're not sure which risks you face in your job, talk to your supervisor.

If you're not sure which risks you face in your job, talk to your supervisor. Ask if you are exposed to bloodborne pathogens and how to protect yourself from exposure. Get training if necessary and make sure that you have the right personal protective equipment for the task at hand.

Washing hands before and after contact with patients or body fluids, when gloves are removed and when PPE is taken off Discarding contaminated gloves in a plastic bag, not the trash Washing hands after removing gloves.

Take advantage of handwashing stations Use disposable equipment when possible, such as scalpels and needles.

Conclusion

In the end, it's important to remember that bloodborne pathogens are just one of many risks that people face in their jobs. If you're not sure which risks you face in your job, talk to your supervisor.

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