Can climate change increase bloodborne pathogen risks?

Climate Change and Bloodborne Pathogens

The climate emergency should concern us all, whether it is extreme heat waves or other weather events, they appear to be getting more severe and more frequent with each passing year.

But did you know that climate change can affect bloodborne pathogens, which are microorganisms that can cause diseases when transmitted through contact with blood or other bodily fluids.

Some of the potential effects include:

Potential effects of climate change on bloodborne pathogens

Exposure Risk

Increased risk of exposure to bloodborne pathogens due to extreme climate conditions around the globe there is an increased risk of unusual weather events such as floods, hurricanes, and landslides, that can cause injuries and damage health infrastructure1.

How is this relevant to bloodborne pathogens? Well, the main concern is the increased risk of exposure to blood and other human bodily fluids as a result of injuries and first-aid provision.

That could combine with increased stress on health facilities and result in a perfect storm of exposure risk

Increased Transmission Vectors

Altered distribution and abundance of vectors, such as unseasonal increases in common disease carriers like mosquitoes and ticks, that can harbor and transmit bloodborne pathogens, like malaria, dengue, and Lyme disease.

Although this has not been a significant problem in the US as of yet, in other parts of the world like Thailand, dengue has become a huge concern and cases are at a 3 year high.

More Favorable Environments for Bloodborne Pathogens

Changes in temperature, precipitation, and humidity that can affect the survival and transmission of bloodborne pathogens in the environment.

This is a pretty simple one to understand, germs, bacteria and pathogens flourish in warm, damp and humid environments. As the climate emergency continues to make these conditions appear  in parts of the world where they previously did not this has huge implications.

Increasing Numbers of Vulnerable People

Increased vulnerability of certain populations, such as immunocompromised individuals, elderly people, and children, to bloodborne pathogens due to malnutrition, stress, and displacement caused by climate change.

Climate Changes Increases the Threat of Bloodborne Pathogens

Therefore, climate change poses a serious threat to human health and well-being by increasing the potential for exposure to bloodborne pathogens. 

It is important to take preventive measures, such as vaccination, hygiene, and vector control, to reduce the risk of infection and disease.

Mitigating Bloodborne Pathogens Risk

There are several ways to protect yourself from bloodborne pathogens, which are microorganisms that can cause diseases when transmitted through contact with blood or other bodily potentially infectious materials (OPIM). 

Some of these preventive measures include:

  • Avoid contact with blood and other body fluids. Use CPR breathing barriers, such as resuscitation masks, when giving ventilations (rescue breaths).
  • Wear disposable gloves whenever providing care, particularly if you may come into contact with blood or body fluids. Also wear protective coverings, such as a mask, eyewear and a gown, if blood or other body fluids can splash.
  • Cover any cuts, scrapes or sores and remove jewelry, including rings, before wearing disposable gloves. Change gloves before providing care to a different victim.
  • Remove disposable gloves without contacting the soiled part of the gloves and dispose of them in a proper container. 
  • Thoroughly wash your hands and other areas immediately after providing care.
  • Use biohazard bags to dispose of contaminated materials, such as used gloves and bandages. Place all soiled clothing in marked plastic bags for disposal or cleaning.
  • Use sharps disposal containers to place sharps items, such as syringes.
  • Clean and disinfect all equipment and work surfaces soiled by blood or body fluids. Use a fresh disinfectant solution of approximately 11⁄2 cups of liquid chlorine bleach to a gallon of water (1 part bleach per 9 parts water, or about a 10% solution) and allow it to stand for at least 10 minutes.
  • Get vaccinated against hepatitis B, which is a bloodborne virus that can cause liver damage and cancer. The vaccine is safe and effective and usually requires three doses over six months.
  • Report any exposure incident to your employer and seek immediate medical attention. Follow the treatment protocols following blood exposures involving HIV, HBV and HCV, including the Clinicians’ Post Exposure Prophylaxis Hotline (PEPline) at 1-888-448-49112.
  • Get bloodborne pathogens certification training so you are fully aware of how to mitigate the risks. 

By following these guidelines, you can reduce the risk of infection and disease from bloodborne pathogens. Stay safe and healthy! 

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