Bloodborne pathogens are microorganisms that are present in human blood and can infect and cause disease in people who are exposed to blood containing the pathogen. These microorganisms can be transmitted through contact with contaminated blood and bodily fluids.
Bloodborne pathogens include, but are not limited to:
- Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)
- Hepatitis B (HBV)
- Hepatitis C (HCV)
- Non A, Non B Hepatitis
- Arboviral infections
- Relapsing fever
- Creutzfeld-Jakob disease
- Human T-lymphotrophic Virus Type 1
- Viral hemorrhagic fever
Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)
Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is the virus that causes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). AIDS was first reported in the U.S. in 1981, and has since become a major worldwide epidemic. HIV is passed from one person to another through blood-to-blood and sexual contact. Pregnant women infected with HIV can also pass the virus to their baby during pregnancy or delivery, and possibly through breast-feeding. People with HIV have what is called HIV infection. Many of these people may eventually develop AIDS as the result of their HIV infection. By killing or damaging cells of the body's immune system, HIV progressively destroys the body's ability to fight infections and certain cancers. People diagnosed with AIDS may get life-threatening diseases called opportunistic infections, which are caused by microbes, such as viruses or bacteria that usually do not affect healthy people. The symptoms of HIV infection range from an asymptomatic state to severe immunodeficiency and associated opportunistic infections, neoplasm and other conditions. Initial infection can be followed by an acute flu-like illness, with such symptoms as:
- Sore throat
The risk of disease progression increases with the duration of the infection. Most studies show that less than 5% of HIV infected adults develop AIDS within 2 years of infection. Without therapy, approximately 20-25% of infected adults develop AIDS within 2 years of infection, and 50% within 10 years. According to the joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), in 2004 nearly 40 million people worldwide were estimated to be living with HIV. Over 3 million people died from AIDS in 2004, and close to 5 million people acquired the HIV infection in 2004.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that 850,000-950,000 persons in the U.S. were infected with HIV as of 2002. The cumulative estimated number of diagnoses of AIDS through 2003 in the U.S. was 929,985.
Acute viral hepatitis is a common, sometimes serious infection of the liver leading to inflammation and necrosis. There are at least five distinct viral agents that cause acute viral hepatitis:
- HAV (Hepatitis A)
- HBV (Hepatitis B)
- HDV (delta)
- HCV (Hepatitis C)
- HEV (an internally transmitted non A, non B hepatitis agent)
Hepatitis B Virus (HBV)
An estimated 1.25 million Americans are chronically infected with the Hepatitis B virus, and about 20-30% of those infected acquired the infection during childhood. A Hepatitis B vaccine has been available since 1982, and routine Hepatitis B vaccinations have greatly reduced the rate of disease among children and adolescents. About one-third of persons infected with HBV have no signs or symptoms. Symptoms can include:
- Abdominal pain
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea, vomiting
- Joint pain
Transmission of the Hepatitis B virus (HBV) occurs when an infected person's blood or bodily fluids enters the body of a person who is not immune. The Bloodborne Pathogen standard requires employers to make the Hepatitis B vaccine and vaccination series available to all employees that have occupational exposure to HBV. Employees who decline the vaccination must sign a statement indicating that they understand they are at continued risk for acquiring Hepatitis B.
Hepatitis C Virus (HCV)
The Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is a major cause of acute hepatitis and chronic liver disease, including cirrhosis and liver cancer. According to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 3.9 million Americans (1.8%) have been infected with HCV, and 2.7 million are chronically infected. The number of new infections per year has declined from an average of 240,000 in the 1980s to about 30,000 in 2003. Illegal injection drug use is the primary cause of infection. Approximately 80% of the persons infected with Hepatitis C have no signs or symptoms. Those that have symptoms and signs may exhibit the following:
- Dark Urine
- Abdominal Pain
- Loss of Appetite
Transmission of Bloodborne Pathogens
Bloodborne pathogens are transmitted when contaminated blood or bodily fluids enter the body of another person. In the workplace setting, transmission is most likely to occur through:
- An accidental puncture by a sharp object, such as a needle, broken glass, or other "sharps", contaminated with the pathogen.
- Contact between broken or damaged skin and infected bodily fluids
- Contact between mucous membranes and infected bodily fluids
Unbroken skin forms an impervious barrier against Bloodborne pathogens. However, infected blood or bodily fluids can enter your system percutaneously through:
- Open sores
- Any sort of damaged or broken skin such as sunburn or blisters
Bloodborne pathogens can also be transmitted through the mucous membranes of the eyes, nose, or mouth. For example, a splash of contaminated blood to your eye, nose, or mouth could result in transmission.
There are also many ways that Bloodborne pathogens are not transmitted. For example, Bloodborne pathogens are not transmitted by:
- Touching an infected person
- Coughing or sneezing
- Using the same equipment, materials, toilets, water fountains or showers as an infected person
It is important that you know which ways are viable means of transmission for the Bloodborne pathogens in your workplace, and which are not.