Examples of Bloodborne Pathogens and Controlling ExposureGreg Garner
“Oh, I don’t have to worry about that.”
“It’s not that big of a deal.”
“I’m careful, what else is there to know?”
When referring to bloodborne pathogens, phrases like these can be dangerous. Over 6 million working Americans risk contracting bloodborne pathogens. How can you tell if you’re one of them?
By familiarizing yourself with examples of bloodborne pathogens you can know how to best avoid them. Here are some of the most common bloodborne pathogens encountered in the workplace.
What Are Bloodborne Pathogens?
According to the CDC, pathogens are disease-causing organisms in human beings. A bloodborne pathogen refers to a disease-causing organism present in human blood.
Bloodborne pathogens can be viruses, bacteria, or parasites. Each bloodborne pathogen may also be transmitted by other bodily fluids in addition to the blood. Referred to as OPIM (other potentially infectious materials), these include:
- Vaginal secretions
- Amniotic fluid
- Fluid surrounding joints and organs
While many more OPIM exist, the list above states commonly found carriers of bloodborne pathogens. Let’s take a look at some of the most common examples of bloodborne pathogens and how they are transmitted.
What Are The Most Common Bloodborne Pathogens?
In the United States, the most common bloodborne pathogens are Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, and Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). Here’s a closer look at the history and facts regarding each of these viruses.
Hepatitis B (HBV)
The word hepatitis is derived from Greek and means liver inflammation. As the name describes, Hepatitis B is a disease that affects the liver.
Hepatitis B was first discovered by Dr. Baruch Blumberg in 1965. Blumberg’s discovery won him a Nobel Prize.
In 1971, microbiologist Irving Millman worked with Dr. Blumberg to create the first HBV blood test. This allowed for increased detection of HBV in donated blood.
In 1981, the first Hepatitis B vaccine was developed by heat treating infected plasma from HBV positive donors. This vaccine was later discontinued and in 1986 a genetically modified vaccine took its place.
The United States no longer allows Hepatitis B vaccines made from plasma donors. All HBV vaccines are created from genetically engineered, or DNA recombinant Hepatitis B.
Hepatitis B is comprised of an outer envelope and inner core. When it enters the human body it will be transmitted to the liver. Once in the liver, the virus becomes part of the liver’s DNA. HBV then establishes a home base in the liver while it replicates and continues to create new pathogens.
Unlike many other viruses, Hepatitis B has a more complicated duplication process. This is because of its cccDNA capabilities.
Acute, or short term, Hepatitis B refers to the first six months of infection after exposure. Those with acute HBV may or may not experience symptoms. Individuals who have acute Hepatitis B will eventually have the virus cleared from their system.
Chronic Hepatitis B is when the virus does not leave the human body’s system. As the name implies, those with chronic HBV will likely deal with symptoms for their lifetime. Chronic Hepatitis B sufferers are also at risk for liver problems.
Those who contract Hepatitis B at infancy or younger than six years are more likely to develop chronic HBV.
Many individuals who have Hepatitis B have mild symptoms. Some don’t display any symptoms at all. Others suffer hospitalization and serious illnesses.
Here are some of the most common symptoms of Acute Hepatitis B. These symptoms can present themselves as early as three weeks after exposure. They can last anywhere from several weeks to six months.
- Dark urine
- Clay-colored fecal matter
- Abdominal pain
- Loss of appetite
- Joint pain
Symptoms for chronic Hepatitis B may not present themselves at all. If symptoms present themselves, they are often the same as acute HBV.
Those who have chronic Hepatitis B are at great risk for serious health conditions. About 40% of those with chronic HBV die from serious liver problems such as cirrhosis or liver cancer.
There is currently no treatment for acute Hepatitis B. Those with severe symptoms may need hospitalization to recover.
Some medications exist for those with chronic HBV but there is currently no cure.
Individuals with Hepatitis B can take care of their liver health by following these recommendations:
- Avoid alcohol
- Follow a healthy diet
- Ask your provider before starting any medication (prescription or OTC)
- Exercise regularly
- Get vaccinated for Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B
While there is no cure for Hepatitis B, many medications exist to treat it. It’s important for those with Hepatitis B to remain in contact with a liver specialist regarding their health and medications.
Hepatitis C, or HCV, is a viral infection that attacks the liver. About 2.4 million people are infected with the virus.
Hepatitis C was discovered as a variant of Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B. Originally referred to as NANB (Non A Non B), it is similar to Hepatitis B. Hepatitis C was discovered by studying blood tests of infected blood transfusion recipients.
The biggest difference between HBV and HCV? HCV does not contain cccDNA. It replicates itself in the body as most other viruses do. Hepatitis C enters the body, travels to the liver, duplicates, and infects healthy cells.
About half of individuals that test positive for Hepatitis C are not symptomatic. In many cases, the virus clears itself from the body on its own.
The other half of the HCV infected population display symptoms. These individuals have a chronic Hepatitis C infection.
Symptoms of chronic Hepatitis C are the same as Hepatitis B. These symptoms include:
- Dark urine
- Clay-colored fecal matter
- Abdominal pain
- Loss of appetite
- Joint pain
It’s possible for individuals to have HBV and HCV simultaneously. Those experiencing chronic Hepatitis C can develop more serious conditions as well. These conditions include:
- Diabetes mellitus
- Essential mixed cryoglobulinemia
- Porphyria cutanea tarda
- Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
- Liver cancer
Liver conditions in individuals with Hepatitis C are often slow progressing and undetected. Many who have Hepatitis C become aware of their infection through blood screenings rather than symptoms.
Treatments and Cure
Hepatitis C has a cure. Through a series of drug treatments, most people are able to rid themselves of HCV. However, some may experience considerable damage to their liver before detection.
Because Hepatitis C changes its genetic code (like other viruses) reinfection is possible. Coinfection with Hepatitis B is not uncommon for those infected with HCV. Individuals undergoing treatment for HCV should also be tested for HBV.
Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)
Human Immunodeficiency Virus, or HIV, infects about 1.2 million people in the United States. About 14% of people who have HIV aren’t aware of it.
In 2018, over 37,000 individuals in the United States received an HIV diagnosis. This is down seven percent from 2014. Sixty-nine percent of those infected were among gay and bisexual men, 24% were heterosexual men, and 7% were those who inject drugs.
Here’s an overview of what we know about HIV.
HIV originated in Chimpanzees in Africa. Human transmission may date as far back as the 1800s. Virus transmission is likely the result of humans coming into contact with infected chimpanzee blood. It’s estimated HIV has been prevalent in the United States since the 1970s.
Once HIV enters the bloodstream, it is able to target helper T cells. Helper T cells serve as a line of defense throughout the body. HIV virus attacks helper T cells.
As a result, the virus is replicated and transmitted throughout the body.
Human immunodeficiency virus appears round with small, rounded spikes all around it.
Over time, HIV can deplete the body’s immune system. When this happens, individuals can develop acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS).
Individuals with HIV will often experience flu-like symptoms and/or swollen lymph nodes shortly after they’ve contracted the virus. This is considered the acute HIV stage, is short-lived, and may go unnoticed.
Individuals are most likely to transmit HIV during the acute stage, as the viral load in their system is very high.
Clinical latent, or chronic stage of HIV infection, does not exhibit outward symptoms. Without treatment, this stage can last for many years.
The next stage of HIV is called symptomatic HIV infection. Symptoms of this stage include:
- Night sweats
- Prolonged diarrhea
- Recurrent respiratory infections
- Purple bumps in mouth/nose or on skin
- Unexplained weight loss
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Persistent Fevers
HIV can be present in individuals ten years or more without presenting any symptoms.
Today, antiviral treatments prevent most people with HIV from developing AIDS. If untreated, however, HIV can cause a person to develop AIDS in 8 to 10 years.
Individuals with AIDS have a depleted immune system. This makes individuals more susceptible to cancers and other infections similar to those listed above.
There is no current cure for HIV. Those living with HIV can effectively treat it by a drug regimen called antiretroviral therapy, or ART. AIDS can be prevented through this treatment in those with human immunodeficiency virus.
ART treatments should begin as soon as possible after an HIV diagnosis. ART will continue throughout the course of the individual’s life.
How Are Bloodborne Pathogens Transmitted?
Bloodborne pathogens are transmitted when an infected person’s blood or fluids comes into contact with a non-infected person’s blood or bodily fluids.
Methods of transmission differ for each specific virus. Here are common ways HBV, HCV, and HIV are transmitted.
Hepatitis B and HIV
HBV and HIV are transmitted in similar ways. While they are bloodborne, they can also be transmitted through contact with certain fluids.
- Vaginal secretions
- Cerebrospinal fluid
- Synovial fluid
- Pleural fluid
- Peritoneal fluid
- Amniotic fluid
- Other body fluids contaminated with blood
There are many scenarios in which HIV and HBV can be transmitted. Here are the most common ways HBV and HIV infect new individuals:
- Unprotected sex
- Sharing hypodermic needles
- Accidental puncture from sharp needles, glass, or objects
- Broken skin contact with infected fluid
- Contact with mucous membranes and infected fluid
It’s important to notify partners and members of your household if you know you’re infected with a bloodborne pathogen. Communicating with loved ones will help keep everyone safe.
The most common cause of HCV transmission is sharing needles during drug use. There are, however, other ways of transmission that are less common. These include:
- Sexual activity and intercourse
- Sharing razors, nail clippers, or other personal items
- Not following proper protocols in healthcare settings
- Tattoos or piercings with non-sterile practices
- Blood transfusions and organ transplants
Only about 6% of babies born to infected mothers contract HCV. Hepatitis C transmission due to blood transfusions and organ transplants is also rare.
How To Prevent Exposure and Transmission
Transmission through bloodborne pathogen exposure can be prevented. OSHA and HIPPAA require workplaces to adhere to all guidelines for bloodborne pathogen prevention.
Employers should offer training to educate and empower employees on bloodborne pathogen protocols. These guidelines and protocols should be strictly followed to decrease the risk of bloodborne pathogen transmission.
Individuals should take the hepatitis B vaccine to prevent infection. Most infants are given their first hepatitis vaccine at birth. Childhood vaccinations follow a series of one or two follow up doses.
Unvaccinated adults who are at increased risk of contracting HBV should also be vaccinated.
What To Do If You’ve Been Exposed
If you’ve been exposed to a bloodborne pathogen, it’s important to act immediately. Flush the infected area for at least 15 minutes.
Report any exposures to your immediate supervisor or manager. It’s important to act quickly so you can receive the medical attention you need.
Following up with a potential exposure right away will also help with more accurate identification of the pathogen.
Who Is at Risk?
Not sure if you need to worry about exposure to a bloodborne pathogen at your job? Here are some common occupations where an increased risk of bloodborne pathogen exposure exists:
- Healthcare workers
- Tattoo artists
- Body piercing artists
- First responders/EMS
- Janitorial staff
- Housekeeping personnel
- Waste workers
- Correctional facility personnel
- Nursing homes
- Childcare and direct support professionals
- Veterinarians and technicians
It’s always a good idea to keep yourself educated about bloodborne pathogens. Even if your profession isn’t listed above, it’s still a good idea to implement bloodborne pathogen education. Safety training will benefit everyone in your organization.
Examples of Bloodborne Pathogens
The most common bloodborne pathogens in the workplace are HBV, HCV, and HIV. Here is a short list of bloodborne pathogens less prevalent in the United States.
There are thousands of bloodborne pathogens in the world. Recognizing and learning about common bloodborne pathogens will keep everyone at your workplace safe.
Education About Bloodborne Pathogens
Education will also reduce the risk of bloodborne pathogens and respiratory transmitted illnesses, such as COVID-19. Examples of bloodborne pathogens and how to prevent them is knowledge everyone at your job should have.
Don’t wait until it’s too late to educate your workplace. Make sure you’re up to HIPAA standards and protocols with our courses today. We have HR training, bundles, or a sales position, we have a course for you.