The 10 Most Common Bloodborne Pathogens: Quick Guide

Common Bloodborne Pathogens

The OSHA Bloodborne Pathogens standard requires that all workers who may be occupationally exposed to blood and other human body fluids complete a Bloodborne Pathogens training course that includes information on common bloodborne pathogens. 

OSHA mandate that all Bloodborne Pathogens training courses cover the ‘big three’, most common Bloodborne Pathogens, which are Hepatitis B (HBV), Hepatitis C (HCV), and HIV (AIDS).

So if you have already completed a training course and you have a Bloodborne Pathogens Certificate you will know all about those types of pathogens. If not, then you will learn about them when the time comes to complete your Bloodborne Pathogens training.

But, there are far more types of bloodborne pathogens than simply those three. In this article, we give you a quick guide to the ten most common bloodborne pathogens, including what they are, how they are transmitted, symptoms, and how they can be controlled.

Let’s get into it.


What is Brucellosis?

Brucellosis is classified by the CDC as an infectious disease, caused by bacteria. The bacteria are found in many livestock animals including sheep, cattle, goats, pigs, as well as domestic animals like dogs.

How Is Brucellosis Transmitted?

Brucellosis is transmitted by eating the undercooked meat of an infected animal. The bacteria can also be transmitted by eating unpasteurized or raw dairy products from infected animals, and through broken skin when a person comes into contact with an infected animal. 

Symptoms of Brucellosis

Initial symptoms of infection include:

  • Fever
  • Sweats
  • Malaise
  • Headache
  • Muscle or joint pain
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite

In some cases, longer-term symptoms may arise and may become chronic. These include:

  • Recurring fevers
  • Arthritis
  • Swelling of the heart, liver, spleen, or testicles
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Depression

In about 5 percent of all cases, a person will experience ongoing neurological symptoms.

How Is Brucellosis Controlled?

Brucellosis can be controlled by fully cooking meat and consuming only fully pasteurized dairy products. People who handle animal tissue should wear gloves, goggles, facemasks aprons and other personal protective equipment.

Hepatitis A

What is Hepatitis A?

Hepatitis A is a highly contagious liver infection, according to the World Health Organization. The disease can result in liver inflammation and impair normal liver function.

How Is Hepatitis A Transmitted?

Hepatitis A can be transmitted in various ways. The virus that causes hepatitis A can be transmitted through contact with an infected individual’s blood or by unprotected sexual contact with that person. Hepatitis A may also be transmitted via contaminated food. Hepatitis does not cause long-term liver damage and does not become chronic.

Symptoms of Hepatitis A

In some cases, a hepatitis A infection is mild and no discernable symptoms are shown. In such a situation, the infection resolves itself in a relatively short time period. The common symptoms of hepatitis A include:

  • Fatigue
  • Sudden nausea
  • Sudden vomiting
  • Abdominal discomfort or pain
  • Clay-colored bowel movements
  • Loss of appetite
  • Low-grade fever
  • Dark urine
  • Joint pain
  • Jaundice
  • Intense itching

In the majority of cases, these symptoms are relatively mild and last a couple of weeks. In some cases, the symptoms are more pronounced and last for several months. If you exhibit some of the symptoms, seek medical attention. If you find out you’ve been exposed to the virus, your physician can administer a vaccination that may prevent the development of the condition if you were infected.

How Is Hepatitis A Controlled?

Because hepatitis A is most often transmitted through contaminated food, the best control tactic is good hygiene when handling and preparing food. Taking proper protection when engaging in sexual activity is also an important means of control. Finally, there is a vaccination available that protects against hepatitis A.

Hepatitis B

What is Hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B – one of the three most common bloodborne pathogens is a rather serious liver infection that’s caused by the virus of the same name, also known as HBV, according to the Mayo Clinic

The good news is, that in most cases, a hepatitis B infection lasts for under six months and resolves itself. The bad news is that there is no actual cure for the condition and, in some cases, hepatitis B becomes chronic. This results in the risk of serious medical issues that include:

  • Liver failure
  • Liver cancer
  • Cirrhosis

How Is Hepatitis B Transmitted?

The most common causes of hepatitis B transmission are:

  • Sexual contact with an infected person
  • Sharing needles
  • Accidental needle sticks
  • Mother to child (passed to an infant during childbirth)

Symptoms of Hepatitis B

The symptoms associated with hepatitis B include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Dark urine
  • Fever
  • Joint pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Jaundice

How Is Hepatitis B Controlled?

The best way to control or prevent hepatitis B is to obtain the hepatitis B vaccine, note that if you are covered by the OSHA Bloodborne Pathogens standard your employer is required to offer you this vaccine free of charge.

Other tactics that can aid in reducing the risk of hepatitis B infection include practicing safe sex, not sharing needles, and using universal precautions when having any type of contact with blood, blood products, and needles. – 

Hepatitis C

What is Hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C is a virus transmitted via contact with certain bodily fluids, including blood and semen, of an infected person. It is most often transmitted via sexual contact, needle sharing, accidental needle sticks, and from mother to child during childbirth.

Symptoms of Hepatitis C

Approximately 4 million people in the United States have hepatitis C, but the disease has so few symptoms, many people are unaware they have it. The primary symptoms of hepatitis C are:

  • Jaundice
  • Stomach pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue

Up to 85 percent of those infected end up developing chronic hepatitis C and run the risk of experiencing liver cancer and cirrhosis.

How is Hepatitis C Controlled?

No vaccine exists to prevent hepatitis C. You can reduce the risk of transmission by engaging in safer sex practices, by not sharing needles, and by employing universal precautions when exposed to blood and other human bodily fluids as well as needles.

Hepatitis D

What is Hepatitis D?

Hepatitis D is a viral infection that impacts the liver. Hepatitis D can only be contracted by individuals who are already infected with hepatitis B. 

Hepatitis D aggravates the liver damage of people with hepatitis B and a person who has hepatitis B but has shown no symptoms of that disease, may become symptomatic when the also become infected with Hepatitis D.  

Hepatitis D normally resolves within 6 months, however, there are instances in which it proves to be fatal according to the Hepatitis B Foundation.

How Is Hepatitis D Transmitted?

Hepatitis D is transmitted through the blood from an infected person coming into contact with another individual. 

This most commonly occurs through sexual activity and the sharing of needles. 

There is a remote chance of transfer occurring through blood transfusions, but this is so rare it should not be of concern. 

As an aside, hepatitis D is the smallest known virus able to infect humans. The virus is rare in the United States.

Symptoms of Hepatitis D

The Symptoms of Hepatitis D Include:

  • Jaundice
  • Joint pain
  • Abdominal pain
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dark urine
  • Fatigue

How Is Hepatitis D Controlled?

Hepatitis D can be controlled by obtaining hepatitis B vaccination. If a person never contracts hepatitis B, that individual will not be infected with hepatitis D.

Hepatitis E

What is Hepatitis E?

Hepatitis E is a liver infection caused by the hep E virus. It is medically classified by the CDC as a ‘self-limited disease’. This means that it does not become a chronic infection and does resolve. The infection is very rare in the United States.

How Is Hepatitis E Transmitted?

Hepatitis E is caused by the ingestion of contaminated fecal matter typically via drinking contaminated water.

Symptoms of Hepatitis E

The Primary Symptoms of Hepatitis E Are:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Joint pain
  • Dark urine
  • Clay-colored stool
  • Jaundice

How Is Hepatitis E Controlled?

The most important tactic to control hepatitis E is to ensure the purity of drinking water. If you travel to a developing country, do not drink unpurified water. No vaccine exists to prevent hepatitis E.

Hepatitis G

What is Hepatitis G?

Hepatitis G is a fairly recent discovery. It is an infection of the liver that results in inflammation. It is considered to be a ‘distant cousin’ to hepatitis C.

At this time, little is known about this strain of hepatitis. That said it is thought to cause a mild infection that does not last long.

How Is Hepatitis G Transmitted?

Information is not complete on all possible ways hepatitis G may be transmitted. There is, however, solid evidence that it has been transmitted through blood transfusions.

Symptoms of Hepatitis G

Little information exists right now regarding the symptoms of hepatitis G, in part because it is considered a mild condition. In addition, some people thought to have hepatitis G are already diagnosed with another form of Hepatitis infection.

How Is Hepatitis G Controlled?

Because hepatitis G is a bloodborne infection, safety precautions need to be exercised around blood and OPIM. This includes utilizing safer sex practices, not sharing needles, and using universal precautions.

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)

What is HIV?

The human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, is a lentivirus, which is a medical subgroup of a retrovirus, according to the CDC. HIV is a common Bloodborne Pathogen that many people are aware of.

Without treatment, HIV can turn progress AIDS. the expected lifespan of a person diagnosed with HIV is between 9 and 11 years without medical intervention.

How Is HIV Transmitted?

HIV is often transmitted through sexual contact. This includes transfer via blood, semen, pre-ejaculate, and vaginal fluids. It is also possible to contract HIV by sharing needles and via accidental needle sticks. Despite precautions and extensive safeguards, there remains a remote possibility of contracting HIV through a blood transfusion. An infected mother can pass the virus to her baby through breast milk.

Symptoms of HIV

The early symptoms of HIV are:

  • Fever
  • Sore throat
  • Rash
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Muscle aches
  • Headaches
  • Joint pain

A person who experiences some of these symptoms on a persistent basis should seek medical testing. Only testing can confirm an HIV infection.

How Is HIV Controlled?

HIV is controlled by using safe sex practice and not sharing needles. Universal precautions need to be exercised when exposed to blood and blood products.

Human T-Lymphotropic Virus 1 (HTLV)

What is HTLV?

HTLV represents a family of viruses classified as human retroviruses. According to the HTLV can cause a type of cancer in humans known as adult T-cell leukemia or adult T-cell lymphoma.

How Is HTLV Transmitted?

HTLV is transmitted via blood to blood contact. This can occur via blood transfusions, sharing needles, and sexual activity.

Symptoms of HTLV

Symptoms of HTLV include:

  • Stiff muscles
  • Uncontrolled muscles contractions in the lower back or ankles
  • Leg spasms
  • Leg weakness

How Is HTLV Controlled?

The most effective way to mitigate the risk of HTLV transmission is by engaging in safer sex practices and never sharing needles. 

As always, a person who comes into contact with blood or other OPIM should practice universal precautions, including the wearing of gloves, aprons or foot protection, and goggles.


What is Syphilis?

Syphilis is a serious sexually transmitted disease. If left untreated, the infection can have serious, and even fatal, consequences.

How Is Syphilis Transmitted?

Syphilis is transmitted when a person comes in contact with an infected sore on another person during sexual relations. The sores can be situated around the penis, vagina, anus, lips, or mouth of an infected person.

Symptoms of Syphilis

Syphilis is divided into stages. Symptoms depend on the stage of the disease.

  • Primary Stage: A sore or sores develop at the site of infection. Sores resolve after three to six weeks, with or without treatment. Treatment is necessary to prevent the transition to the next stage.
  • Secondary Stage: More widespread skin rashes develop during this stage. A person may also suffer fever, swollen lymph nodes, a sore throat, patchy hair loss, headaches, weight loss, muscle aches, and fatigue.
  • Latent Stage: An infected person experiences no symptoms of the disease. Treatment remains necessary to eradicate the disease from the body. The Latent Stage can last for years.
  • Tertiary Stage: Most people with syphilis never reach this stage. A person who does reach this stage can experience loss of muscle control, paralysis, numbness, and dementia.

How Is Syphilis Controlled?

The risk of syphilis infection is reduced, but not completely eliminated, by practicing safe sex.


There are many different common Bloodborne Pathogens over and above the three main types that are covered in OSHA Bloodborne Pathogens training.

It’s important to be aware and keep yourself safe, and remember it’s an employers responsibility to follow all the mandated aspects of the OSHA Bloodborne Pathogens standard – this includes offering free HBV vaccinations and providing training to employees before they commence working around blood and other human body fluids, annually thereafter, and any time that new work practices are introduced.

If you are an individual looking for Bloodborne Pathogen Certification you can take our bloodborne pathogen training courses.

If you are an employer needing to get your workers, contractors or agency staff Bloodborne Pathogens certified you can use our fast and user-friendly online bloodborne pathogen training for groups.

Click here for Bloodborne Pathogens Certification for Tattoo Artist

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