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Introduction To Bloodborne Pathogens

In this section, background information about bloodborne pathogens and why training is necessary is explained. The importance of the exposure control plan is also highlighted.

Why is training in Bloodborne Pathogens Required?

A health care facility workforce typically consists of far more employees than direct-care staff. Nurses, unit coordinators, quality-assurance personnel, administrative professionals, sanitation workers, and many others are among those employed at health care facilities. Regardless of whether an employee’s role involves direct contact with patients, there is still a risk of exposure to bloodborne pathogens.

For work environments where such a risk is present, OSHA requires that all employees to complete training on reducing and preventing bloodborne pathogen exposure.

What is an exposure control plan?

An exposure control plan (ECP) gives employees direction on how to properly respond to pathogen exposure incidents and covers the following information:

  • A briefing of personnel who are at high risk of direct exposure to pathogens.
  • A list of employee tasks or responsibilities that could cause exposure.
  • An established set of rules to ensure adherence to OSHA and any other requirements, such as those of the Joint Commission. (The Joint Commission is a United States-based organization that accredits more than 22,000 US health care organizations and programs).
  • Rules regarding research or production of deadly bloodborne pathogen antibodies, such as Hepatitis B and the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
  • Proactive Hepatitis B vaccination protocols.
  • Educational communication measures for employees, such as this course.
  • Record-keeping policies for instances of exposure.
  • Policies for immediate actions to take following exposure.

What are Bloodborne Pathogens?

Bloodborne pathogens are germs or organisms that, when infecting a human body, live in the bloodstream. Pathogens are contracted through bodily substances containing blood, such as sneeze droplets, urine, feces, seminal fluid, and vomit. Symptoms from bloodborne pathogens are typically not immediate, but other individuals can still become infected by bloodborne pathogens from an infected, asymptomatic person. If the proper precautions are not taken following exposure, bloodborne pathogens can cause death.

A closer look at Bloodborne Pathogens:

Hepatitis B and C Viruses

Common symptoms: jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes), fatigue, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, and liver damage.

Fortunately, there is a vaccine for preventing hepatitis B. If there is a risk of exposure to hepatitis B, employers are required to make provisions for employees who have not previously been vaccinated. The vaccine is administered in three sets, each dose spaced out by approximately one month.

Employers may require employees to receive blood tests if the three-set series is not completed in full to ensure that hepatitis B antibodies are not in the bloodstream.

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)

An HIV infection can produce symptoms identical to those typically associated with the flu: fatigue, appetite changes, unexplained fever, and swollen glands. Individuals infected with HIV are at higher risk of contracting other diseases and developing acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS).

Contact Does Not Always Equal Illness

If you’ve been exposed to bloodborne pathogens, you may not necessarily be infected; however, following proper prevention protocols and taking follow-up measures to reduce your risk of infection.

How to React to Bloodborne Pathogens in the Workplace

Employees can be exposed to bloodborne pathogens anywhere in the workplace, including bathrooms, patient rooms, hallways, and laboratories (Figure 1).

  1. Protect Yourself.
  2. Take immediate action.
  3. Clean the area.
  4. Alert your supervisor.

Figure 1

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