Although you have every right to exercise caution in the area of bloodborne pathogens, you must also ensure that you are educated as to the real dangers rather than simply being illogically afraid of ordinary, harmless scenarios. We will help you sift through what scenarios you should be concerned about, how to confidently and properly deal with them, as well as what scenarios are harmless and are simply the product of myths run amok.

Any bodily fluids, and especially those that are visibly contaminated with blood, have the potential to transmit disease. However, three conditions must be present for any virus, disease, or bloodborne pathogen to be transmitted: the pathogen itself being present, the rescuer being susceptible to the infection (not having an immunization to the virus / disease), and a route being present for the virus / disease to enter into the rescuer's body (eyes, nose, mouth, injection into skin, absorption into broken skin). If any one of these conditions is absent, the disease or virus has no chance of infecting the rescuer.

One way to ensure you do not get some common viruses is to be immunized. Several viruses and diseases such as the Hepatitis B Virus (HBV) and Meningitis have vaccines that will protect you from ever being contaminated. Unfortunately, other viruses such as the Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) and the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) do not have vaccines. It is important to get vaccines from all common viruses available if you are in a position to be around any bloodborne pathogens in your work or private life.

Sexual contact is the primary mode of transmission for bloodborne pathogens, but the risk of exposure does exist while providing medical or first aid care as well. However, if you are in a position to help a person in need, you can still feel safe by simply removing all possible routes for the pathogen to enter the body. This sounds harder than it is. To protect yourself, you can keep a face shield with a one-way barrier on you at all times to prevent disease from entering if you are in a position to give rescue breaths to an unresponsive victim. Having supplies in a first-aid kit or in your car's glove box are good options if they are available and easily accessible. Otherwise, you can purchase a face shield key ring with a one-way barrier mask and a small pair of gloves. The packet is small and can fit conveniently on your keys to be with you at all times. If you are in a situation to perform CPR but you do not have a one-way barrier with which to perform rescue breaths, you can always perform hands-only CPR, which can be very effective on its own.

Bloodborne pathogens can also be transmitted when a contaminated, sharp object cuts or punctures the skin (such as needle stick, illegal drug usage, cut from broken glass, or a bite), when an infected body fluid gets into an open cut or mucous membrane (such as your eyes, mouth, ears, or nose), or when a contaminated object touches inflamed skin, acne, or skin abrasion.

Bloodborne pathogens are NOT spread by "soaking through" normal, intact skin. Our ordinary, intact skin is a wonderful first defense against disease, and we should not fear contamination through our skin unless there is an open cut, inflamed skin, acne, skin abrasion, or mucous membrane for the blood to enter our body through. Bloodborne pathogens are also NOT spread through casual contact like handshakes, hugging, sharing food, doorknobs, sneezing, toilet seats, or swimming pools. Ordinary public contact should not be a cause of fear for contraction of bloodborne pathogens, yet this can often be a source of irrational fears.

If you happen to be in a situation where bloodborne pathogens are present, then be sure to use standard precautions to reduce your risk of contracting a virus or other bloodborne pathogen:

  • When treating a person or cleaning up a spill, make sure to treat all body fluids from every person as potentially infectious
  • Follow the recommendations in your employer's Bloodborne Pathogens Exposure Control Plan if your employer provides you with a standard protocol
  • Know where personal protective equipment (gloves, CPR shields, masks, gowns, eye protection, etc.) is available and use it when dealing with bodily fluids
  • Do not eat, drink, smoke, apply cosmetics, or handle contact lenses in areas where there is the possibility of exposure to bloodborne pathogens
  • When you empty trash containers, do NOT use your hands to compress the trash in the bag, and lift and carry the bag away from your body
  • When handling laundry, wear personal protective equipment, keep contaminated laundry separate from other laundry, bag potentially contaminated laundry where it is used, use leak-proof bags for wet laundry, and transport laundry in properly labeled bags
  • Discard needles and other sharp objects in rigid, leak-proof, puncture-resistant containers; and do not bend, shear, break, or recap needles

To clean up a spill containing possible hazardous materials, put on personal protective equipment, remove visible material with absorbent towels, remove sharp objects or broken glass with tongs or a dust pan and place them in a ridged, sealable container (NEVER use your bare hands), and spray a solution of 1 part household bleach to 10 parts water on the spill if you do not have access to a Body Fluid Spill Kit. Commercial disinfectants that are labeled as effective against HIV/HBV and registered with the EAP may also be used to clean up the spill. After allowing the spray to stand for several minutes, dry the area with absorbent towels and dispose of them in the regular trash. Be sure to properly remove your gloves and wash your hands sufficiently.

With the proper education and knowledge about bloodborne pathogens, you can help victims who are bleeding and clean up hazardous spills properly and without excessive worrying and fear of contamination. This peace of mind will help you take care of a situation while assuring your safety.

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