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Preventing the Spread of the Three Most Common Blood-Borne Pathogens

Occupational exposure to blood-borne pathogens has long been known to be a risk for healthcare workers. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) estimates that as many as 5.6 million healthcare workers are at risk of being exposed to these (and other) pathogens. So, what is the latest on the three most common blood-borne pathogens? What are they and what is the best way to prevent exposure? 

What Are the Three Most Common Blood-Borne Pathogens?

While there are many blood-borne pathogens that exist in the healthcare workplace, there are three that are the most common and perhaps the most troubling—human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), hepatitis B virus (HBV) and hepatitis C virus (HCV).

How Are Blood-Borne Pathogens Spread?

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) warns of two potential means of exposure to these pathogens:

  1. Percutaneous injuries – injuries in which a healthcare worker is exposed to the pathogen via a sharp object.
  2. Mucocutaneous injuries – injuries in which a healthcare worker is exposed to the pathogen through contact with blood, tissue, or any other potentially infectious bodily fluids.

Developing a Culture of Safety – For Patients AND Staff

While most healthcare leaders might be able to readily name the various ways in which their organizations have committed to keeping patients safe, they may be less able to articulate how their staff is being protected in that same culture. On the surface, that may sound like bad news. However, the good news is that a robust and intentional safety culture tends to protect both patients and staff.

Preventing Transmission: The Must-Haves

Universal and standard precautions are the bulwarks in the prevention of the spread of these pathogens. Universal precautions treat all human blood and many other bodily fluids as potentially infectious. Standard precautions include the use of handwashing as well as the use of protective or barrier equipment such as gloves, gowns and masks.

In addition to these precautions, OSHA requires the following elements as part of any plan to prevent transmission:

  1. Exposure Control Plan – Employers must have a written plan that specifies how they will minimize employee exposure to these pathogens. The plan must be specific to tasks and job descriptions. Tasks and procedures must be updated annually to reflect operational and other workplace changes.
  2. Clear Warning Signs and Labels – Containers of regulated waste, used sharps, contaminated reusable sharps, refrigerators and freezers containing blood and other potentially infectious material, contaminated equipment and laundry must be labeled or placed in a red bag.
  3. Controls – Controls include the provision and instruction on the use of protective equipment such as gloves, masks and gowns, the provision of training on the appropriate use of protective equipment, the monitoring and enforcement of the use of safe practices, training on how to clean contaminated surfaces and equipment and the provision of safe and appropriate waste containers for the disposal of sharps and other potentially-infected supplies.
  4. Housekeeping – These recommendations includespecific measures such as the requirement that surfaces be decontaminated with a ten percent solution of bleach or other disinfectant, the proper handling of contaminated debris, requirements for sharps containers, procedures for decontaminating medical equipment and supplies and prohibitions regarding the consumption of food and beverages in an area where there has been a contamination.
  5. Hepatitis B Vaccinations – This vaccination must be provided, free of charge, to any employee whose job is such that they may be at risk of exposure to this pathogen. Employees who decline the vaccination may still elect to receive it at no charge at a later date.
  6. Post –Exposure Response - OSHA requires that healthcare organizations maintain a log of sharps injuries as well as evaluate the risk of infection to the employee, provide treatment and explain options and provide ongoing monitoring to determine if infection is present.
  7. Training and Record Keeping – The requirement for a blood-borne pathogen class is really the lynchpin for an effective safety culture. Occupationally exposed employees must be trained at least annually on preventive methods. In addition, healthcare organizations must maintain records of that training.

HealthStream can help your organization meet these requirements, improve your safety culture, and minimize risks to patients and employees. Investigate providing a blood-borne pathogen class.

Make Sure Your Healthcare Training Meets All Relevant Federal and State Training Requirements.


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