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Blood-Borne Pathogens

by Dr. Isabel Perry, “The Safety Doctor”



680 words


Any time someone is hurt in an accident, your natural instinct is to try to help.  Before rushing to someone’s aid however, it is important to take precautions to protect yourself against illnesses which can be transmitted through blood and body fluids. In an emergency this may be the farthest thing from your mind, but there are two deadly diseases against which you need to protect yourself: 

¨      Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)

¨      Hepatitis B virus (HBV)


These diseases are called Blood Borne Pathogens.  Anyone can have either of them and look and feel perfectly healthy, yet be carrying the viruses and spread them to other people without knowing it.


Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome


HIV causes AIDS.  Most people infected with HIV will eventually contract AIDS, and their bodies will no longer be able to fight infections and other diseases like cancer.  HIV is primarily transmitted through sexual contact, but it can also be transmitted through contact with blood and certain body fluids.  At this time there is no cure for AIDS. 



Hepatitis B virus


HBV can cause severe damage to the liver, resulting in permanent damage and almost certain death.  It is much more common than AIDS and for that reason much more dangerous.  This is not the type of Hepatitis transmitted by food handling.  HBV can be passed on to others through blood, saliva and other body fluids.  Symptoms include flu-like symptoms and feeling so ill that you may need to be hospitalized.


Fortunately, you can be vaccinated before or immediately after exposure to help prevent HBV infection.




Blood-borne pathogens, including HIV and HBV may be present in the following:


¨      Body tissues or organs

¨      Blood

¨      Vaginal secretions, semen and certain other body fluids


In order for you to get the infection, the virus must enter your body.  This can happen if you: 

¨      Cut yourself with a sharp object that is contaminated with infected blood or fluids

¨      Get infected blood or fluids on your skin when you have open sores, nicks or cuts, even something as minor as a paper cut

¨      Get contaminated blood or fluids in the mucous membranes of your eyes, nose or mouth

¨      Share infected needles

¨      Have sexual contact with an infected partner


Your skin normally acts as a shield to keep viruses out, but if you have chapped hands, broken cuticles, acne, or dermatitis, that barrier will not protect you.


Don’t Take Chances


Use caution with everyone; you can’t know for certain whether a person is infected or not.  It only takes a moment to take the necessary precautions which could save you from a lifetime of pain and suffering, or from an early death.  Put on a pair of leak proof gloves.  Wear them under your normal work gloves.  Wear safety glasses to prevent blood or fluids from spraying into your eyes.  Should blood or body fluids get on your skin, immediately go and wash with soap and water.  Should these fluids get in the eyes, nose or mouth, immediately flush them with running water or eyewash solution.  Then report it immediately and get the proper medical follow-up.  A supervisor can’t do anything for you if they don’t know that you have been exposed.



Clean-up After An Accident


Usually access to an accident scene is restricted while the victim is being given first aid. Extend those restrictions until the entire clean-up process is completed.  Follow these procedures:


¨      Wear a leak-proof apron to protect clothing

¨      Wear two pairs of leak-proof gloves

¨      Avoid tearing gloves, and replace them immediately if they are damaged

¨      Don’t pick up contaminated sharp objects (glass, nails, sharp metal, etc.) with your hands – you might cut both gloves and hands

¨      Blood should be mopped up with disposable towels

¨      Blood and other contaminated materials must be disposed of as regulated waste. 

¨      A good disinfecting and cleaning solution is 1 part bleach to 10 parts water.  This will kill both HBV and HIV

¨      After cleaning, disinfect mops and any other cleaning equipment.




Dr. Isabel Perry is an internationally-known safety expert, motivational speaker, author, and safety educator.  Based in Orlando , Florida , she can be reached at 407-291-1209 or via e-mail at [email protected]