When Handling Bloodborne Pathogen, Clean Up Always
Imagine you're put in a Good Samaritan scenario. You drive past someone bleeding out on the road, and you stop to help. Wait! There's an important step to take before you try to help someone else. If blood is involved, experts recommend that you put on gloves. Why? If you have cuts in your skin, their blood can seep in and mix with yours. This can lead to infections such as HPV or hepatitis C. The rule of thumb when you come in contact with blood is: when handling bloodborne pathogens, always clean up. This can prevent disasters, especially if you work with people who use needles to inject drugs into their bloodstream. However, avoiding the most common bloodborne pathogens means that you'll need to take certain precautions. If you're at risk of coming into contact with blood, here's the guide you need.
When Handling Bloodborne Pathogens, Always Clean Up
It's common knowledge if you're injecting drugs: don't share needles. The blood on someone else's needle goes straight into your bloodstream when you inject. This can cause the transmission of bloodborne pathogens. What is a bloodborne pathogen, though? Here are some examples.
- Epstein-Barr virus
- Hepatitis B
- Hepatitis C
These are considered bloodborne pathogens that could be transmitted. How does transmission occur? Transmission can occur through open wounds, of course. If you have cuts on your hands, that's an easy route. However, these pathogens are microscopic. Is your skin chapped? Do you have split cuticles? What about acne or eczema? These are all ways that infection can occur. If there are blood splashes, pathogens could come into contact with mucus membranes. These line the eyes, nose, and mouth. One method of prevention is obtaining the Hepatitis B vaccine.
What is Syphilis?
Most people write off syphilis as an STD. However, you can also get syphilis through a blood transfusion or accidental exposure to bloodborne pathogens. Even asymptomatic people can spread syphilis in this way. Syphilis progresses in multiple stages. Usually, sores begin to blossom in the area where the infection started. In the case of accidental exposure to a bloodborne pathogen, this will likely be on the hands. This is especially true if you had chapped skin, a cut, or split cuticles. These sores are usually painless and will go away on their own. Don't ignore this warning flag, though! Syphilis progresses to the next stage even once the sores go away. The second stage involves rashes and lesions. You may get an unexplainable rough, red rash. This usually crops up on your palms or the bottoms of your feet. Often, it's a very faint rash. If you've been exposed, look for other signs. These include:
- Achy muscles
- Swollen glands
- Sore throat
- Hair loss
Lesions can also appear on the mouth, anus, or vagina. These will also go away without intervention. The next stage of syphilis is a silent one. There are no symptoms, but it is still present in your body. This could continue for years. Most syphilis patients don't develop the last stage. It's called tertiary syphilis and attacks your internal organs. This stage can cause your heart, brain, and nervous system to shut down. It occurs between ten and thirty years from the time you were first infected.
Is Malaria Still A Form of Syphilis?
One of the most common bloodborne pathogens is syphilis. Often, malaria and syphilis are conflated with each other. There are two reasons for this. Malaria and syphilis can both be transmitted through blood. There's a historical reason, though. During the World Wars, syphilis was very common. In 1917, an Austrian doctor infected syphilis patients with malaria. The malarial fever counteracted syphilis and healed them. Once penicillin was implemented, this odd treatment became useless. Malaria is not a form of syphilis and cannot be contracted through sexual intercourse. It can be spread through blood, though, so it should also be treated like any other bloodborne pathogen.
Develop A Plan
Coming up with a bloodborne pathogens exposure control plan is crucial. This should include a Bloodborne Pathogens certification:
- Proper hygiene protocol
- Needle disposal containers
- PPE equipment
- Proper cleanup for broken glass
- Cautious labeling and disposal of biohazards
- Hepatitis B Vaccinations
- Establishing an exposure control officer
- Conducting regular employee training
Depending on your industry, this could change. If you're a school, for instance, then the nurse's office will be the focus. If you're a hospital, though, protocols will be much more stringent.
Proper handwashing stops the spread of diseases, promotes hygiene, and prevents infections. A handwashing facility needs to be established in all high-risk areas. This includes exam rooms, bathrooms, and other facilities. Strategically placing them will be especially useful in case of an emergency. Hot water and antibacterial soap are important, of course. It's worthwhile to invest in contactless pump soap. Soap bars often harbor infection, too, because they're stored haphazardly. Often, bar storage is sloppy and gummy, which harbors germs. In this case, the cure is worse than the disease. Contactless features are crucial to prevent spread when multiple people touch a soap bar or a pump push button. Also, informational posters are a nice touch. Everyone knows how to wash their hands! Remember the start of the coronavirus pandemic, though? Timing out how long to wash your hands through memorable chants is helpful, and was highly popular then. If you're worried about employees not taking enough time to do it right, bring it back!
Establish SHARPS Containers
There is some debate regarding SHARPS containers. Some say that if these containers are in place, it encourages drug use. Others say that it provides safety for everyone, and is a necessary resource in communities. After all, quitting is a process, and having a place to dispose of needles in the meantime is crucial to help keep others safe. Part of bloodborne pathogen cleanup, though, is checking back on processes regularly. Are the containers secure? Are they being emptied regularly? Put these in areas like bathrooms, that way needles can safely and discreetly be exposed of.
Due to the current global health crisis, PPE includes masks, face shields, gloves, and possibly hazmat suits. Depending on your industry, these could all be necessary. When it comes to preventing bloodborne pathogen transmission, gloves are a must. Masks and goggles are also important because blood spatter can land on mucus membranes. These items should be readily available to staff members. During a crisis, these PPE items must be accessible.
Look Out for Glass
In everyday environments such as schools or daycare, broken items may be the #1 cause of cuts and scrapes. Of course, taking care of the injury is the main priority. Make sure you wear PPE and handle the injury appropriately. Once that's done, it's time to handle housekeeping concerns. Don't just pick up the broken glass, though! Don a fresh pair of gloves and use tools. There could be blood on broken edges. Having a broom and dustpan within arm's reach is crucial for proper sanitary cleanup. When you're cleaning, it's not enough to pick visible shards off the floor and move on. Remember that bloodborne pathogens are microscopic. You'll need to clean surfaces with a 1:10 bleach solution. Or, you'll need to utilize an EPA-registered disinfectant. These disinfectants will have been approved to combat HIV and HBV. Don't swipe and leave, though. Many of us don't read the instructions on the back of cleaning materials. For instance, do you have any idea of how long you're supposed to let Clorox sit on a surface after wiping it down? It's much longer than you think! Be sure to read the manufacturing label and follow all instructions before assuming a surface is safe again.
When you're disposing of biohazards, it's important to treat them like nitroglycerin. Follow the correct procedure, don't rush, and handle them with the utmost care. If you're dealing with biohazards, even if it's simply contaminated laundry, be sure to follow the proper procedure. Don't cut corners, even if it would save time or money. The most important thing is caution. What are the chances that a thirteen-year-old that accidentally dropped a glass has bloodborne pathogens? In most cases, it's quite low! Probability doesn't matter, though. To perform responsible risk control, you must treat all contaminated items as if the blood was infectious. This is the best way to prevent issues from occurring.
If employees work in a profession that presents a reasonable amount of risk, OSHA requires that employers provide access to the Hepatitis B vaccine. When it comes to handling these crises, operating under OSHA and HIPAA regulations is crucial. It will protect your company from future lawsuits, ensure accurate and confidential handling of employee information, and At-risk employees must receive the vaccine for free under OSHA laws. Additionally, employers must accommodate those getting vaccinated. This includes offering vaccination opportunities at a time and location that are convenient. Employers must document their vaccine offer, too. A waiver or request form must be signed by the employee. If employees refuse the vaccine, they can always change their mind later on. When it comes to delivering the Hepatitis B vaccine, it takes 3 separate doses. This is done over a six-month time span. Due to the intensity of this vaccine cycle, booster shots usually aren't needed. Like most vaccines, there are some side effects. These include fatigue and localized pain, swelling, or redness.
Establish an Exposure Control Officer
Exposure control officers are responsible for documenting incidents and handling practical matters. Here are their responsibilities:
- Documenting the exposure incident, which includes how and when
- Provide identification for the individual who caused or experienced exposure
- Arrange permission and logistics to test this individual
- Ensure that these test results are sent to the employee's healthcare provider
- Remind the employee of confidentiality laws regarding this information
- Arrange logistics for collecting the employee's blood
- Ensure this blood is kept for ninety days if the employee initially refuses to test for HIV and wishes to have it done later on
Instituting an exposure control officer prevents details from slipping through the cracks. It also provides accurate documentation and a paper trail that you may need in the future.
Conduct Employee Training
Getting the right bloodborne pathogens training is important. Whether it's for business associates, dental staff, healthcare workers, or general knowledge for everyone, it's necessary. You'll need to observe all the government guidelines for administering this training. As a rule of thumb, it should include:
- An overview of bloodborne pathogens
- An explanation of exposure risk
- Training on how a combination of PPE, careful practices, and engineering controls reduce risk
- A discussion of how PPE was chosen
- Providing information on the vaccine, including health, logistic, benefit, and practical information
- A run-down on action items for an incident
- Explanation of the reporting and documentation process
- Education on labels, signage, and posters that are required by OSHA, DHSS, and other government agencies to be visibly posted at the facility
- A Q&A session
This is a broad overview, but your training session should be highly detailed. This will ensure that your staff is well trained and prepared for anything.
Safely Handling Bloodborne Pathogens
The rule of thumb is: when handling bloodborne pathogens, always clean up. This can prevent disasters. There's a lot that goes into it, though. Proper hygiene, reporting protocols, and medical care all contribute. If you'd like to learn more about safe handling, check out our course bundles! It's the detailed resource you've always needed.