Many people have an aversion to exposure to blood – and for good reason. Aside from the “gross” factor associated with exposure to blood products, blood products can also represent a significant health risk, especially if exposure to the blood product is unplanned, outside of a clinical environment, or from an unknown source.
Bloodborne pathogens are microscopic organisms or viruses that cause a variety of illnesses and diseases in human beings. Examples include the hepatatis viruses, HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus). Hepatitis B is the most commonly transmitted virus due to exposure to blood products.
Certain people are at higher risk of contracting an illness due to exposure to bloodborne pathogens. Individuals working in various healthcare professions involving direct patient contact, or contact with blood products in a laboratory or other environment, are often exposed to risks every single day. As such, workers in a healthcare environment must be carefully trained to follow proper procedures to avoid contaminating clothes, workspaces, and even themselves and others with blood products. Healthcare workers must always be vigilant in the workplace.
Individuals stuck by needles, or are exposed to blood on the eyes, nose, mouth, or broken skin, are the most likely to be affected by an accidental exposure. In these cases, the United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration recommends immediately flooding the affected area with water, cleaning any wound with soap and water, or a disinfectant, then immediately reporting the incident to one’s employer. Then, medical attention should be sought right away. In cases where blood products carry bloodborne pathogens, early access to medical care can be vital in avoiding a potentially life-altering infection. In addition, accidental exposure to bloodborne pathogens in the workplace can happen in a number of other ways – one can get cut by a used scalpel or razor blade, or be cut by broken glass contaminated with blood or body fluids.
Even outside the healthcare sector, it is important for all types of businesses to provide basic safety training regarding accidents where blood contaminates the workplace. At all times, someone that knows how to deal with a blood exposure situation should be on hand to help deal with such a situation if it arises. Additionally, in the event that blood contaminates tools, workspaces, clothing, or other parts of the workplace, protocols should be in place to insure that the affected items are either disinfected and cleansed, or discarded properly. If these types of situations are not dealt with properly, the number of people exposed to bloodborne pathogens can increase. For instance, tossing bloodied paper towels into a waste bin after an accident can result in exposing janitorial staff to the blood. Materials that become sullied with blood products (and cannot be disinfected safely) must be discarded in a proper manner. They should be deposited in a sealed biohazard waste container, and be taken to a waste facility that can properly handle biohazard wastes.
Bloodborne Pathogens In The Workplace
Workplace safety gear can also be key to avoiding unnecessary exposure risks. For instance, if someone in a workplace accidentally cuts their hand with a power saw, blood might spray across the workspace. Individuals working with such tools should be wearing proper safety eyewear. In addition to protecting the eyes from flying debris, they can help reduce the risk of accidental exposure to blood sprays.
All workplaces, schools, and public buildings should have a place to discard of needles. A surprising number of individuals rely on medication that must be injected at various intervals throughout the day, or as needed. Though some individuals can use re-usable injection syringes, many medications come in single-use syringes. These need to be disposed of in a proper manner – in a biohazard needle bin – in order to avoid dangerous disposal. Throwing a used needle into a normal trash can or bag can result in exposing janitorial staff (or others) to bloodborne pathogens.
Some diseases can still be transferred even if blood dries. Hepatitis B is known to be contracted from exposure to dried blood. Simply getting a bit of powdery, solid dry blood on the fingers, then touching the eyes, nose, or mouth, can be sufficient to spread the infection. This is why it is extremely important that blood contamination events are dealt with in a proper manner. This includes stringent cleaning of the workspace, using cleansers known to destroy pathogens and break down blood products.
Of course, exposure to bloodborne pathogens can happen in a variety of other contexts. One can be exposed to bloodborne pathogens during sexual activities. This is a fairly common way transfer bloodborne pathogens, as friction creates microtears in the skin and mucous membranes that can allow transfer of microscopic blood and pathogens. Even if blood is not immediately evident, it is almost certainly a risk. As such, when one’s partner’s infection status is unknown or questionable, it is important to always utilize protection.
Sharing needles – usually among drug addicts – is another common way that bloodborne pathogens are spread from one person to the other. It cannot be emphasized how incredibly unsanitary it is to share needles or syringes between persons. Almost all modern syringes are intended to be disposable, and are meant to be destroyed after a single use. This means that they are often made of materials that cannot, under any circumstances, ever be completely disinfected. As such, sharing needles is always an extremely high risk activity, and should never be tolerated. The act of sharing needles between IV drug users is directly responsible for outrageously high levels of dangerous diseases like hepatitis and HIV/AIDS spreading through drug-using populations at epidemic levels. This presents such a significant threat to public health that many municipalities even offer needles for free, which can be traded in when worn out for a new replacement. Despite that such programs often draw public ire, they are quite successful in reducing the rates at which bloodborne pathogens spread among drug users – which means that far fewer medical, police, and community workers are exposed to the risk of contracting a bloodborne disease.