The CDC estimates that 5.6 million workers in the healthcare industry and related occupations are at risk of occupational exposure to bloodborne pathogens.
What are bloodborne pathogens (BBP)?
Bloodborne pathogens are infectious microorganisms found in a person’s blood or other body fluids that can cause disease in humans. These pathogens include hepatitis B virus (HBV), hepatitis C virus (HCV), and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the virus that causes AIDS. People who are exposed to bloodborne pathogens are at risk for developing serious or life-threatening illnesses.
Bloodborne pathogens can be found in blood, which includes blood components and products made from blood, or in other potentially infectious materials. Other potentially infectious materials include semen, vaginal secretions, any body fluids contaminated with blood, and human tissue.
What is a BBP exposure?
A bloodborne pathogen exposure can happen if you are stuck with a needle or are cut with a sharp object which has been contaminated with blood or other potentially infectious materials. A BBP exposure can also occur if you get blood or other potentially infectious materials in your eye(s), nose, mouth, or onto your broken skin.
Who is at risk for a BBP exposure?
People who are most at risk for occupational exposures to BBP include:
- Healthcare workers
- First responders/Emergency Response Personnel
- Housekeeping personnel
- Maintenance and waste workers
- Correctional healthcare workers
- Tattooists and body piercers
Non-occupational transmission of BBP most commonly occurs through sexual transmission or IV drug use.
What should I do if I have a BBP exposure?
If you have exposure to a bloodborne pathogen, the first thing you should do is clean the area. Wash any affected areas with soap and water. Flush splashes to the nose, mouth, or skin with water, saline, or sterile wash. Irrigate exposed eyes with clean water, saline, or sterile wash.
After administering first aid measures, report the exposure right away. If you have had exposure at work, always follow your employer’s policy for reporting workplace injuries and illnesses and receiving treatment. If you have exposure outside of work, contact your healthcare provider as soon as possible. Based on your exposure and risk factors, your healthcare provider may recommend testing and/or prophylactic treatment for bloodborne pathogens, so it is important to notify them right away.
How can I protect myself from BBP exposures at work?
Things you can do to protect yourself from BBP exposures include:
- Getting the hepatitis B vaccine.
- Reading and understanding your employer’s BBP Exposure Control Plan.
- Treating all blood and body fluid spills as if they were infectious.
- Containing spills of infectious material immediately, then cleaning and disinfecting the area.
- Cleaning up contaminated broken glass with tongs, forceps, or a brush and dustpan. Never use your hands, even if protected with gloves.
- Disposing of used sharps promptly into an appropriate sharps disposal container.
- Using sharps devices with safety features whenever possible.
- Using personal protective equipment (PPE), such as gloves and face shields, every time there is a potential for exposure to blood or body fluids.
- Cleaning work surfaces with germicidal products.
- Protect yourself by using appropriate PPE and a one-way valve, if performing CPR or rescue breathing.
What is a bloodborne pathogen exposure control plan?
Per Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations, if there is a reasonable chance that you could be exposed to bloodborne pathogens during the performance of your work duties, your employer should have a bloodborne exposure control plan in place to minimize or eliminate your risk of BBP exposure. A bloodborne pathogen plan is a written plan that should include:
- Implementing universal precautions (treating all human blood and other potentially infectious materials as infectious).
- Identifying and using engineering controls such as sharps disposal containers, self-sheathing needles, sharps engineered with safety protection, and needle-less systems, when applicable.
- Providing personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gloves, gowns, eye protection, and masks at no cost to the employee.
- Using labels and signs to communicate hazards, such as warning labels on containers of regulated waste, reusable sharps, contaminated laundry, and refrigerators or freezers that store blood or other potentially infectious materials.
- Providing bloodborne pathogen information and training to employees.
- Making hepatitis B vaccines available to all employees who are at risk for bloodborne pathogen exposure.
- Having a plan for post-exposure evaluation and follow-up if an employee has had an exposure.
- Maintaining employee medical records, training records, and a sharps injury log.
National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, “Bloodborne Infectious Diseases: HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C,” September 6, 2016.
National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, “Bloodborne Pathogen Exposure,” June 6, 2014.
National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, “Emergency Sharps Information,” October 5, 2016.
National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, “Engineering Controls and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE),” October 11, 2016.
National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, “National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health,” October 5, 2016.
National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, “Occupations Affected by Bloodborne Infectious Diseases,” September 30, 2016.
National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, “Preventing Needlesticks and Sharps Injuries.”
National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, “Protect yourself. Protect your family. Protect the public.”
National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, “Universal Precautions for Preventing Transmission of Bloodborne Infections,” September 6, 2016.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration, “Bloodborne Pathogens and Needlestick Prevention.”
Occupational Safety and Health Administration, “Bloodborne Pathogens and Needlestick Prevention: General Guidance.”
Occupational Safety and Health Administration, “Bloodborne Pathogens and Needlestick Prevention: Hazard Recognition.”