Bloodborne pathogens that enter the body can have serious effects on our health and wellness. These pathogens have the ability to make us very sick and rarely have short-term consequences. As a result, any problems associated with the acquisition of a bloodborne pathogen are likely to be long-term, and in some instances, can prove fatal.

In order to avoid exposure to bloodborne pathogens, there are several steps one can take. Even after the acquisition of a pathogen, it may still be possible for a person to receive treatment if interventions are made in an appropriate amount of time. Still yet, there are many people who acquire bloodborne pathogens that experience no ill-effects at all.

Bearing these things in mind, it is important that one be well-informed about the risks associated with bloodborne pathogens and illnesses, as well as best practices for avoiding contact with such hazards, in the workforce and beyond.

Bloodborne Pathogens Defined

Bloodborne pathogens can be defined as germs within the blood that have the potential to make a person very sick. However, it isn’t only blood that can contain these hazardous germs, but blood-containing fluids, also. This includes bodily fluids such as saliva and vomit, which may contain traces of blood. As a result, it is important to treat all contact with bodily fluid with the utmost care and caution.

As noted before, not all bloodborne pathogens will result in sickness for everyone, and will be largely influenced by the infected person’s ability to ward off the germs and the amount of germ that was present. Nevertheless, it is imperative that the person that knowingly has come into contact with a bloodborne pathogen seek medical attention to rule out any possible infection, immediately.

Causes

There are many ways in which bloodborne pathogens can be transferred from one person to the next. These include:

  • Sharing needles
  • Sexual contact
  • Blood or blood-containing materials entering orifices such as the eyes, nose, ears or mouth
  • Accidental puncture wounds from sharp objects
  • Passed from mother to baby during birth

It is also important to realize that bloodborne pathogens can be acquired in multiple settings and scenarios. Whether you are at work, at home or out in public, these germs can easily be passed from one person to the next if proper precautions aren’t taken.

Types

There are various types of bloodborne illnesses that could potentially harm a person that has come into contact with bloodborne pathogens. These include Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), syphilis, Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and brucellosis. These diseases prove to be a challenge for all who acquire them, and their impact on victims often last a lifetime.

Symptoms

Symptoms that exhibit themselves after a person has become infected with a bloodborne pathogen will differ from person-to-person. It will also differ depending on the type of virus or disease acquired.

For HIV-related symptoms, one may expect to experience:

  • Extreme lethargy
  • Swollen glands
  • Fever
  • Decreased appetite
  • Weight loss

For Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C-related symptoms, you may notice:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Yellowing skin
  • Yellowing eyes
  • Liver damage
  • Nausea
  • Lethargy
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Fatality in some cases

Protection

In order to protect yourself against bloodborne pathogens, there are several measures that can be taken.

Before selecting the method that’s right for you, you should always consider the circumstance and the risks that you face so that you can adequately, and appropriately, respond in a way that keeps you and others safe.

In the case of interacting with or caring for a person with HIV, Hepatitis B or Hepatitis C, it is important to note that, as with any bloodborne pathogen-related illness, it is contact with bodily fluids that are the most cause for concern.

Anytime that you know that you are, or will be, at risk for contact with bodily secretions, precaution needs to be taken. Wearing gloves is essential, and wearing goggles may be necessary in the event that there is a chance of splash-back.

If you are on the job and must handle the bodily fluids of an infected person, you should not only wear gloves and goggles but may also wish to wear a face shield, a covering such as a gown or apron, shoe covers and even a cap to cover your hair.

Another very practical way to keep yourself and others safe from the transference of bloodborne pathogens is to wash your hands. In fact, handwashing is so important that the CDC has posted guidelines indicating exactly how and when you should do it for maximum effectiveness.

Because bloodborne pathogens can enter the body through various orifices, washing your hands becomes vital to keeping yourself safe from accidental cross-contamination. While blood or blood-containing fluids may have not gotten directly in your eyes, nose, ears or mouth, they can end up there, especially if you haven’t washed your hands before touching one of these areas of your body. Other actions such as applying lip balm, eating, drinking, flossing or inserting contact lenses also require caution, care and clean hands before mistakenly transferring a bloodborne pathogen into your body.

So, why does proper handwashing matter? Because handwashing may fail to kill the germs on your hands if it isn’t executed and right way. As such, you should always aim to wash your hands for a minimum of 20 seconds, making sure to scrub the fronts and backs of your hands, as well as underneath your nails, before rinsing your hands and drying them with a clean paper towel or cloth.

Bear in mind too that, although convenient, hand sanitizer has been proven to be less effective at killing germs, particularly when it comes to heavily soiled hands, than washing with soap and water. For this reason, handwashing with soap and water, especially when it comes to bloodborne pathogens, is strongly advised.

Clean Up

If you find yourself in a position where you must clean up after, or care for, a person who has a bloodborne illness, you must be sure to protect yourself. For large losses of blood or other bodily fluids, you must always wear gloves, as well as other aforementioned personal protective equipment, before taking to the task.

Once you are properly outfitted, use an absorbent material, such as a cloth or paper towel, to carefully soak up the blood or blood-containing fluid. Then, dispose of the soiled cloth or paper towel in a properly designated area before carefully removing gloves and washing your hands thoroughly with soap and water.

Accidental Pathogen Exposure

If, by chance, you do come into direct contact with blood or blood-containing materials without the appropriate safety gear, don’t panic. Find the nearest clean water source and rinse the affected area, whether it be your eyes, face, mouth or open wound, with water. Then, notify the appropriate personnel, if applicable, and get medical treatment when necessary.

Remember that, unless you are formally notified that someone has a bloodborne illness, it will be impossible for you to know who does and who doesn’t, by looks alone. Because of this, it is crucial that you treat the handling of all bodily fluids or excrement in the same fashion, no matter whose it is or what you may know about them, in order to prevent the spread of such germs and disease.

Prevention Is Key

All in all, prevention of bloodborne pathogens entering the body is the easiest way to stay free of harmful diseases and illnesses caused by bloodborne germs. By limiting your exposure to blood and blood-containing materials and wearing the appropriate safety gear, you will have a much greater chance at preventing bloodborne illnesses and disease.