Bloodborne Pathogens: What You Need to Know

A bloodborne pathogen is defined as an infectious agent that is carried in the blood and certain other body fluids that are capable of infecting a host. The three bloodborne pathogens that we are the most concerned about are Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), which is the virus that causes AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome), Hepatitis B Virus (HBV), and Hepatitis C Virus (HCV).

Bloodborne pathogens are transmitted when infected blood comes in contact with a healthy individual's blood through broken skin or a mucous membrane. Examples of broken skin are open cuts, nicks, abrasions on the skin, and even acne. Bloodborne pathogen viruses are also transmitted through unprotected sexual contact and sharing needles with an infected individual. If infected material comes into contact with a person's mucous membranes, they can also contract bloodborne pathogens through this route of transmission. Your mucous membranes are your eyes, nose, and mouth. The eyes, nose, and mouth have a lot of blood flow, which makes it extremely easy for the viruses to enter the bloodstream.

The bodily fluids that could be potentially infectious for any of these bloodborne pathogens are blood, semen or vaginal secretions, fluid around the brain, joints, lungs, heart, and amniotic fluid. Sweat, tears, saliva, urine, stool, vomit, nasal secretions, or anything that a person coughs up from their respiratory tract, typically does not spread bloodborne pathogens. However, if they are visibly contaminated with blood, they are capable of transmitting infections.

Hepatitis B (HBV) is the strongest of the three bloodborne pathogens. It can live on an environmental surface for up to one week and is actually 100 times more infectious than HIV/AIDS. Therefore, if a surface had been contaminated with the Hepatitis B Virus, and you touch that surface and then proceed to touch your eyes, nose, or mouth, you can indirectly transmit the virus to yourself. There is no vaccine against HIV/AIDS or the Hepatitis C Virus. There is a vaccine for the Hepatitis B Virus - a series of three vaccinations over a period of six months.

Emergency responders are trained to deal with bloodborne pathogens. Whenever possible, let them handle a bloodborne pathogen situation. If you must come into contact with the bodily fluids of another person, you need to treat all bodily fluids as potentially infectious. You must wear gloves and protect your eyes, nose, and mouth. After any contact with someone else's bodily fluids, you must wash your hands.