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Incubation

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Bloodborne pathogens are viruses that reproduce and live in the blood. Although prevention of infection by using personal protective equipment is most important, it is also vital to know how long after an exposure before a virus may produce signs or symptoms in a person, otherwise known as the incubation period. Let's start with talking about Hepatitis B Virus otherwise known as HBV. The virus has been known to live outside the body in dried blood or blood product for 2 weeks or longer. The incubation period after exposure is 3 weeks to 3 months, and averages 6-8 weeks. HBV may or may not produce symptoms. When symptoms are present they are fatigue, sore muscles, fever, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and jaundice. 50% or more of cases occur without symptoms. An acute case rarely results in death. About 5% of people infected develop chronic hepatitis. And about 25% of these people will develop cirrhosis of the liver / cancer after the 10-30 year mark. Similar to HBV is Hepatitis C Virus or HCV. However, there are several differences. The HCV virus can last outside the body for only minutes to hours. The incubation period after exposure is 2 to 26 weeks, averaging about 7 weeks. Symptoms are similar to hepatitis B, except most cases have no symptoms. About 85% develop chronic hepatitis where the person remains contagious. About 25% of people with chronic hepatitis will develop cirrhosis of the liver or cancer after 10-30 years. Now for Human Immunodeficiency Virus or HIV. This Bloodborne Pathogen attacks the immune system rather than the liver like HBV or HCV. HIV is inactivated after only a few seconds to minutes after exposure to air. It may persist longer in undried blood. An incubation period is 6 weeks to 6 months for blood test to become positive. HIV causes AIDS (or the acquired immune deficiency syndrome) which can take many years to develop. Symptoms are usually a flu-like illness with fatigue and sore muscles that may occur a few weeks after infection. People are then usually without symptoms for several years until symptoms of advanced disease, such as weight loss, recurrent infections, swollen glands and others occur. Initial infection is usually not recognized because symptoms are absent or very mild. It is important to remember that the bloodborne pathogens can live outside the body on surfaces or equipment. And cross contamination and improper use of personal protective equipment can lead to life threatening consequences. Prevention of infection is the key for bloodborne pathogens. Use personal protective equipment properly at all times. Decontaminate all work surfaces and contaminated areas. To protect yourself and your clients, make sure to strictly follow all infection control procedures for your facility.

In this lesson, we are going to take a look at incubation periods for a few of the most common bloodborne pathogens that you will encounter over the course of doing normal business. The three bloodborne pathogens that we will be looking at are Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, and HIV.

Bloodborne pathogens are viruses that reproduce and live in the blood. Although prevention using personal protective equipment is important, it's also vital to know how long after exposure before each virus produces signs and symptoms in the infected person. This is what's known as the incubation period, and it fluctuates based on the virus.

Hepatitis B Virus (HBV)

The Hepatitis B virus can live outside the body in dried blood or a blood product for two-plus weeks. The incubation period after exposure to the virus is between three weeks and three months, with an average incubation period of six to eight weeks.

The Hepatitis B virus may or may not produce any symptoms when it is present in the body. When symptoms are present, they can include:

  • Fatigue
  • Sore muscles
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Vomiting
  • Jaundice

In 50 percent of all hepatitis B cases, no symptoms are present. And in acute cases of Hepatitis B, the disease rarely causes death.

Around 5 percent of infected people will develop chronic Hepatitis B. Of those people, 25 percent will develop conditions such as liver cancer and cirrhosis of the liver after 10 to 30 years of becoming infected.

Hepatitis C Virus (HCV)

The Hepatitis C virus, also known as HCV, is very similar to HBV. However, there are a few key differences that you should be aware of.

The Hepatitis C virus can survive outside of the body for only a short amount of time – a few minutes up to a few hours. The incubation period for the Hepatitis C virus after exposure is between 2 and 26 weeks, with an average incubation period of seven weeks.

The symptoms of the Hepatitis C virus are also similar to the symptoms for the Hepatitis B virus, except in the majority of cases there are no symptoms present. Around 85 percent of those infected will develop chronic hepatitis C. it's important to note that with chronic infections, the person will remain contagious.

Around 25 percent of all people with chronic Hepatitis C will also develop cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer after 10 to 30 years of becoming infected, if it goes untreated.

HIV Virus

HIV is a bloodborne pathogen that attacks the immune system rather than the liver, like the hepatitis viruses. The HIV virus is inactivated after just a few seconds to minutes after exposure to air. However, like some of the Hepatitis viruses, it may persist longer in undried blood.

The incubation period for the HIV virus is between six weeks and six months. This is the amount of time that it will usually take to show up on a blood test. If left untreated, the HIV virus will eventually lead to AIDS, but this can take many years to develop.

Signs of the HIV virus are very similar to flu-like illnesses, producing symptoms that include fatigue and sore muscles. These symptoms tend to develop just a few weeks after infection.

In most people who are infected with the HIV virus, symptoms will usually disappear for years, until symptoms of a more advanced disease begin to show up. These symptoms include:

  • Weight loss
  • Recurring infections
  • Swollen glands

Pro Tip #1: The initial HIV infection can be very difficult to recognize, as symptoms are often absent or mild. It's also important to remember that these bloodborne pathogens can live outside of the body on surfaces, equipment, and instruments if they are not decontaminated properly.

Warning: Cross-contamination and improper use of personal protective equipment can lead to life-threatening consequences, as can poor decision making or non-adherence to prevention control techniques.

The prevention of infection is the key when dealing with bloodborne pathogens. This means using your personal protective equipment correctly and at all times. This means properly decontaminating all work surfaces and contaminated areas. And it means making sure to follow all infection control procedures for your facility.

Taking these crucial preventative steps will help protect yourself as well as your clients.