How to Dispose and Clean up Bloodborne PathogensGreg Garner
Combatting bloodborne pathogens is a task anyone in a medical profession needs to understand and contend with it via Bloodborne Pathogens Training. Without bloodborne pathogens training, they may be unprepared to confront the real threat of bloodborne disease.
Our understanding of how pathogens spread has evolved a great deal over the decades. Today, we have put together a guide to help medical professionals understand the basics of pathogen disposal and cleanup. We will then discuss training to further prepare professionals for such incidents.
Understanding Bloodborne Pathogens
The first step in combatting any type of pathogen is understanding it. Bloodborne pathogens are infectious microorganisms that spread via blood. They spread via the bodily fluids of an infected person, getting into the bloodstream of another person.
Animals can also spread certain bloodborne pathogens to humans. These are zoonotic bloodborne pathogens. This is mostly a concern of medical professionals who work with animals, such as veterinarians, but is still worth noting.
Blood, semen, vaginal secretions, saliva, and more can all potentially carry bloodborne pathogens. As a rule, medical professionals should treat all bodily fluids as potentially infectious.
Tissue and organs are also infection risks.
An exception is unbroken skin. Bloodborne pathogens can’t travel via skin-to-skin contact. That said, cuts, even small ones, can still lead to exposure.
Equipping Oneself Against Bloodborne Pathogens
It was not until around 1986 that the medical community understood bloodborne pathogens could spread via broken skin. Before the infection of nurse Barbara Fassbinder while she helped treat an HIV patient, wearing gloves was not the standard practice in medical care. In many situations, we now know them to be critical to caregiver safety.
Blood and other bodily fluids require caution from medical professionals (and in general). The default assumption should be bodily fluids are an infection risk and thus one must wear proper safety gear for the approach. This true both when treating patients and when trying to dispose of and otherwise clean medical waste.
What are bloodborne pathogens but one of many vectors for disease? Any exposure is a risk; gambling on potentially infectious bodily fluids is irresponsible and dangerous.
Medical professionals should equip themselves so that their skin, eyes, and mouth do not risk exposure. At a minimum, employees must wear disposable gloves, gowns, and face shields/masks in situations where a risk of exposure to potentially infectious fluids is possible.
The more thorough one’s protection, the more difficult it will be for pathogens to find an entry point. While available equipment and time can be limiting factors in one’s protection, a pair of gloves and a medical-grade mask are all but essential when dealing with potential bloodborne pathogens.
Cleaning Up Bloodborne Pathogens
Once one is well-equipped, they can begin cleaning and disposing of bloodborne pathogen risks. The proper approach will depend on the amount of bodily fluid that needs cleaning up.
For a small amount of blood or other fluid, cleanup is relatively simple. The site of injection requires disinfection and bandaging. After that, anything exposed to the patient’s fluids, such as sharps, disposed of.
Moderate amounts of fluid, such as post-surgery or if a patient vomits, require more care. Remove all waste and fluid from the site and dispose of it properly. Then, apply an EPA-registered disinfectant to a microfiber cloth.
Cleanup needs to be thorough, especially on dirtied equipment that cannot be disposed of (i.e. lights, tables, and medical machinery). The goal is to kill any pathogens that may cling to surfaces in the area.
For significant amounts of fluids, such as during some accident or crime scenes, cleaning up may be beyond the average medical professional. Some cleanups will require specialized cleaning services aimed at dealing with significant biohazards.
Regardless of the cleanup, staff should also talk with the patient/s. The basics of infection risk should be reviewed. Then, a patient should know what to do if they start bleeding or must otherwise deal with their own fluids.
Note that the more thorough a cleanup required, the greater the risk exposure risk to cleaners. This is why those at sites requiring significant cleaning often must wear extensive personal protection equipment (PPE). While equipment can almost never reduce one’s exposure risk to zero, it can reduce it to acceptable levels.
Disposing of Bloodborne Pathogens
It is not enough to clean up bloodborne pathogens. One must also dispose of bloodborne pathogens in the proper way.
In some respects, proper disposal is even more important than proper cleanup. While both are critical, improper disposal can expose people to a bloodborne pathogen at a site where such risks are not known. Moreover, the people at that site may not be knowledgeable in proper medical procedures.
If, for example, biohazardous fluids arrived at a normal dump rather than the appropriate site, workers may contact the fluids. Worse, depending on the nature of the waste, infection can occur without (to that worker) any forewarning. If they do become infected, they also risk infecting others in the process.
While employees at a proper disposal site understand the risks of bodily fluids and what to do if they are at risk of infection, this may not be true at improper dump sites. For example, those trained in proper disposal will be trained in what to do if stuck with a potentially dangerous needle. Those at improper sites may have no such training.
Most medical facilities have established procedures to help ensure medical waste is disposed of properly. The key is properly labeled containers equipped to safely store medical hazards such as sharps or bodily fluids. T
These containers are then transported by trained personnel to the right facilities. There, they can be destroyed or otherwise processed in a way matching modern best practices. Often, but not always, biohazards are incinerated.
What is critical is that potential pathogen carriers are never disposed of with traditional garbage. Staff must label medical waste and store it separately.
In the United States, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is an authority that has made great strides in helping to regulate medical safety practices.
OSHA’s rules and regulations intended to reduce the spread of bloodborne pathogens are thorough and actionable. At the same time, it can be difficult for one to process their recommendations as they are formatted without thorough study. Their Occupational Safety and Health Standards, while important, can be dry to read.
For this reason, we will highlight some of their more important recommendations here. That said, a medical professional should familiarize themselves with all of OSHA’s recommendations.
Some highlights of OSHA’s recommendations include:
- Requiring employers have exposure control plans intended to reduce or eliminate the risk of employee’s being exposed to pathogens
- Establishing best practices for wearing protective equipment
- Requiring employees wash their hands as early as possible once they have removed protective gear
- Establishing proper procedure if one has contact with a potentially contaminated fluid
- Setting up best practices for the storage and transport of potentially infectious materials
The common thread of these regulations is prioritizing safety and consistency. The more reasonable caution used when dealing with potential pathogens, the less dangerous real threats will be, even if not fully understood when encountered.
Bloodborne Pathogens Training
The simple answer is that it is an assurance medical staff stay prepared for bloodborne pathogens. This training course, offered by HIPAA Exams, reviews and then tests employees on the likes of bloodborne pathogen transmission, proper safety procedures, and more.
As its name suggests, this course helps keep medical staff and those in their care safe against bloodborne pathogens. In order to pass the course, employees will need to get an 80 or higher on a bloodborne pathogens test. The testing is also a good option for those in other non-medical fields where bloodborne pathogens are still a real risk, such as tattoo artists.
Over 1.2 million Americans are infected with HIV, which itself is only one of many bloodborne infections. Moreover, not everyone with a bloodborne illness is aware of their infection. It is essential that employees understand the risk of exposure to bodily fluids so as to keep themselves safe.