Donating Blood: Am I at Risk From Bloodborne Pathogens?

places to donate blood in a blood bank

In blood donation centers, blood-borne disease outbreaks have been recorded since the 1970s. Thus, donation centers have become a high-risk environment for transmission as a result of certain procedures, which could explain the high rates of blood-borne illnesses documented among donors.

The blood supply in the United States is now safer than it has ever been. Yet, any blood-borne pathogen can still be transmitted through blood transfusion. Blood transfusions can transmit a wide range of pathogens, including bacteria, viruses, prions, and parasites. The following are some of the occupational exposures that can result in bloodborne pathogens transmission:

  • Injuries from needles and other sharps
  • Inoculation of virus directly into epidermal scrapes, lesions, abrasions, or burns.
  • Inoculation of the virus into mucosal surfaces of the eyes, nose, or mouth through unintentional splashes.

Why Donate Blood?

So why should you donate blood. The advantages of donating blood to individuals in need are endless. According to the American Red Cross, one donation could save up to three lives. In addition, blood is reported to be needed every two seconds in the United States.

Blood is necessary for survival as it transports oxygen and essential nutrients to all of the body’s organs. It is the main reason why healthcare facilities have always been in great need of blood to save patients with serious medical conditions or to nurture them back to health. There are many places to donate blood and you can search for you local directory listings and find a blood bank.

Aside from the benefits of blood donations to patients, donating blood regularly has several health benefits for you, the donor. Below are amongst the most compelling reasons to make blood donation a regular part of your health regimen:

1.   Save Lives

A blood donation is a truly noble gesture that an individual can perform for people in need. An eligible person can give one unit of blood that can be divided into four independent components in 45-60 minutes, potentially saving numerous lives. Without blood donation, patients cannot undergo surgery or recover from illnesses. Safe blood saves lives and enhances one’s health. Moreover, a  blood transfusion helps in the following:

  • Women with pregnancy complications, including such hemorrhage before, throughout, or after childbirth
  • Children with severe anemia due to malaria or malnutrition
  • Individuals who have suffered significant trauma as a result of man-made and natural disasters
  • A large number of complicated medical and surgical operations, as well as cancer patients

2.   Enhances your mental health

Being a blood donor can elevate your human spirit. Knowing that your blood donation will be utilized in emergencies and other medical procedures to save lives can add to your sense of self-worth as we are wired to feel a strong feeling of satisfaction from being able to help someone in need.

3.   Produce new blood cells

An average adult has about 10 quarts of blood in his or her body. Only roughly 1 pint of your blood supply will be reduced from you when you donate blood. What’s even more impressive is that your body has a mechanism for restoring the blood it has lost. In fact, it only takes a couple of days for your body to produce new, oxygen-rich blood cells.

4.   Maintain a healthy body weight

You can burn up to 650 calories of body fat each time you donate blood. The reason behind this is because your body needs to renew its blood cells. While this calorie burn does not imply that blood donation should be used to lose weight, it does reinforce the idea that donating blood regularly has health advantages.

Who Can and Can’t Donate Blood?

Red blood cells, plasma, and platelets are critical components of medical treatments for patients worldwide, and maintaining a steady supply is a constant challenge. Every day, about 40,000 blood donations are required for a variety of conditions and treatments, including cancer, sickle cell disease, and anemia, as well as pregnancy difficulties, trauma, and operations. Immunizations for chickenpox, hepatitis B, and tetanus, as well as clotting factor products for hemophiliacs, are all made possible by blood donations.

As long as they are in good health, almost everyone can donate blood. But before donating, there are requirements that a donor must meet to be eligible for donating. Such basic eligibility conditions are as follows:

1.   Age

According to World Health Organization, the minimum age required to be able to donate is 16 years old while the age limit is up to 65 years old. Policies in some countries, however, allow 16–17-year-olds to donate if they meet the physical and hematological requirements and acquire legal consent. Regular donors beyond the age of 65 may be accepted at the discretion of a competent physician in various countries while in some countries, the top age limit is 60.

2.   Weight

You must at least weigh 50 kg. Although in some countries, whole blood donors must weigh at least 45 kg to provide 350 ml ± 10%.

3.   Health

To be qualified to be a blood donor, you must be in good health and must be in good physical condition. In terms of a dentist appointment for a minor procedure, you will have to wait 24 hours before donating. But if you had extensive work done, you will have to wait a month. Also, you are not eligible for donating blood if you have an insufficient hemoglobin level. A hemoglobin level of not less than 12.0 g/dl for females and not less than 13.0 g/that Itdl for males is used as a threshold in several countries.

4.   Travel

Traveling to locations where mosquito-borne illnesses, such as malaria, dengue fever, and Zika virus, are endemic may result in a temporary postponement. To limit the danger of spreading variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD) through blood transfusion, many countries enacted policies requiring blood donors with a history of travel or residence in defined cumulative exposure periods in designated countries or locations to be deferred.

5.   Behaviors

If any of the following apply to you, you are ineligible to donate blood:

  • In the last 12 months, you engaged in “at-risk” sexual activity
  • You tested positive for HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) or AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome)

Meanwhile, these are among the conditions that donors must follow to qualify to give blood based on their specific donation type, to ensure the safety of both patients and donors.

1.   Whole Blood Donation

“Whole blood” is the blood that circulates within your veins. It is composed of red, white, and platelet cells suspended in plasma.

  • Donations are made every 56 days.
  • You must be in good health and must be in good physical condition.
  • In most states, you must be at least 16 years old.
  • You must be at least 110 pounds.

2.   Power Red Donation

During a Power Red donation, you can safely donate two units of red blood cells at the same time. It employs a unique machine that allows you to safely donate two units of red blood cells in a single donation while returning your plasma and platelets.

  • Donations are made every 112 days, up to three times each year.
  • You must be in good health and must be in good physical condition.
  • In most states, male donors must be at least 17 years old, 5’1″ tall, and weigh at least 130 pounds.
  • Female donors should be at least 19 years old, 5’5″ tall, and weigh at least 150 pounds.

3.   Platelet Donation

Platelets are microscopic blood cells that help to stop bleeding by forming clots. They are fundamental in the survival and treatment of cancer, chronic diseases, and catastrophic injuries for millions of Americans. Someone needs platelets every 15 seconds. Hence, platelets have a five-day shelf life and new donors are needed every day.

  • Donations can be made every seven days, up to 24 times per year.
  • You must be in good health and must be in good physical condition.
  • In most states, you must be at least 17 years old.
  • You must be at least 110 pounds.

4.   AB Elite Plasma Donation

A single AB Elite donation can supply up to four units of plasma to patients in need, allowing you to make a bigger difference. In this type of donation, blood is extracted from one arm and sent through a high-tech device that collects your plasma and then carefully and painlessly returns your red cells and platelets, along with some saline. It simply takes a few minutes longer than blood donation but can have a significant impact.

  • Donations can be made every 28 days or up to 13 times per year.
  • You must be in good health and must be in good physical condition.
  • Donors who have type AB blood are suitable for donating AB Elite plasma or platelets.
  • You must be at least 17 years old to participate.
  • You must be at least 110 pounds.

Making a much-needed blood donation is usually a lovely experience, but not everyone can do so. While the American Red Cross and other organizations applaud and value every individual who donates blood, some people may be unable to do so for a variety of reasons. Here are five reasons why you might not be able to donate blood:

1.   Recent piercing or tattoo.

You must wait at least four months after getting a tattoo, piercing, semi-permanent make-up, or any other procedure that pierces the skin before donating. The main reason is to avoid the spread of the hepatitis virus.

2.   Flu, Covid19 & other Respiratory Viruses

If you have a fever, cough, or are otherwise unwell on the day of donation, you will have to wait and return when you are feeling better. This guideline is followed by the Red Cross as a precautionary measure to prevent the transmission of influenza during blood drives. ​

3.   Recent Antibiotics Intake

People who have finished a course of antibiotics throughout the last seven days or who have had any form of infection in the last two weeks are not permitted to donate blood. The reason behind this is because some infections can be transmitted through blood.

4.   Does Not Meet Weight Requirements

Donors must weigh at least 110 pounds and be in good physical condition. You may faint or become critically weakened after they take your blood if you are underweight or have low iron in your blood. ​

The OSHA Bloodborne Pathogen Standard

The Bloodborne Pathogens Standard covers all employees who have occupational exposure to bloodborne pathogens, either as considerately foreseen job-related exposure with blood or other potentially infectious materials. Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), hepatitis B virus (HBV), and hepatitis C virus (HCV) are the three most common bloodborne pathogens.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) Bloodborne Pathogens Standard is being distributed to companies as a tool to help them understand and comply with it. This standard aims to keep employees safe from dangerous occupational infections.

OSHA’s Bloodborne Pathogens Standard, as enhanced by the Needlestick Safety and Prevention Act of 2000, lays forth a comprehensive range of protections intended to protect personnel from infectious materials such as blood, body fluids, unfixed human tissues, and other potentially infectious materials (OPIMs). The Bloodborne Pathogens standard necessitates the use of several safeguards, along with:

Common Bloodborne Pathogens

Microorganisms that are spread through blood circulation are known as bloodborne pathogens. For an infected person’s pathogen to spread, an infected person’s body fluids must enter the bloodstream of another individual.

Bloodborne pathogens have been linked to the spread of over 20 other pathogens. However, Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), hepatitis B virus (HBV), and hepatitis C virus (HCV) are the most frequent bloodborne viruses that pose a threat to health care workers.

Co-infection with various Bloodborne diseases and multi-drug resistant organisms, such as HIV, hepatitis B or C, Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), and diabetes co-morbidities, indicates that occupational exposure to health care workers is now significantly riskier than in the past.

Workers in the healthcare industry may be exposed to these pathogens in one of two ways:

  1. A percutaneous injury occurs when a sharps object injures a health care worker.
  2. A mucocutaneous exposure occurrence occurs when blood, tissue, or other potentially infectious bodily fluids come into contact with a mucous membrane or non-intact skin.

Employees are less likely to wear personal protective equipment if it is not readily available or accessible. As a result, they are in danger of being exposed to blood and bodily fluids, as well as being vulnerable to the following blood-borne viruses:

1.   Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) impairs the immune system until it is no longer capable of fighting infection. When a person’s immune system is impaired, he or she may experience weight loss, low-grade fever, night sweats, and flu-like symptoms.

Furthermore, the individual becomes more susceptible to pneumonia, intestinal ailments, and fungal infections. Because almost one-in-seven people do not know they have HIV because they have not been tested, both patients and other healthcare workers are uninformed of the risks of exposure.

Between 1981 and December 2006, the CDC reported 57 documented cases and 140 suspected cases of HIV transmission to U.S. health care employees. Percutaneous injury (puncture/cut injury) was linked to 48 of the 57 recorded instances.

2.   Hepatitis B virus (HBV)

The hepatitis B virus can lead to liver failure and death. It is a chronic infection that affects about 5% of adult patients and is associated with a 20% lifetime risk of developing cirrhosis and a 6% lifetime risk of dying from liver cancer. Symptoms include:

  • Jaundice
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Abdominal pain

People diagnosed with HBV at birth have a significantly higher risk of developing a chronic infection, with around 90% of newborns and 25–50% of children aged one to five years being chronically infected with HBV after initial infection.

A sharps injury increases the chances of contracting hepatitis B by between six and thirty percent. In fact, in 2001, according to national hepatitis surveillance data, roughly 400 healthcare personnel were infected with HBV.

3.   Hepatitis C virus (HCV)

HCV is a pathogen of high significance in case of occupational risk as there is no vaccine for it. Moreover, the hepatitis C virus causes severe liver damage which can be deadly. Infection might manifest itself without symptoms or with relatively minor ones.

In 2016, the CDC received reports of 2,967 cases of acute hepatitis C from 42 states. Infected individuals have chronic hepatitis in 75-85% of cases, with 70% of those patients developing aggressive liver disease. However, health care employees exposed to blood in the workplace only account for two to four percent of the total acute HCV infections that have occurred annually, ranging from 100,000 in 1991 to 41,200 in 2016.

What to do if you think you might have been exposed to BBP?

Needlesticks, damaged skin that comes into contact with potentially infected objects, body fluids spilling into eyes, and a variety of additional means can all spread bloodborne viruses to healthcare personnel. Unfortunately, not everyone who is at risk of contracting a bloodborne disease works in the health world. More importantly, anyone who comes into contact with human blood or any bodily fluids is at risk of Bloodborne pathogens.

Because a person might become infected with a bloodborne infection without even realizing it, all human blood and bodily fluids should be treated as if they are infected. If you suspect being exposed to bloodborne pathogens, you should seek medical attention right once. Unless you are not certain what to do, follow these steps provided by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • Soap and water should be used to clean needlesticks and cuts.
  • Splashes to the nose, mouth, or skin should be washed away with water.
  • Using clean water, saline, or sterile wash, irrigate the eyes.
  • To ensure that you receive appropriate follow-up care, report all exposures as soon as possible.

The OSHA Standard & Training

The Occupational Exposure to Bloodborne Pathogens Standard was published by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) on December 6, 1991. This guideline is intended to safeguard about 5.6 million workers in the healthcare and allied industries against bloodborne viruses such as the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Hepatitis B Virus (HBV).

The Bloodborne Pathogens standard is intended to safeguard against risks such as:

  • Blood, body fluids, and other OPIMs
  • HIV-containing cell/tissue cultures
  • HIV- or HBV-containing culture media
  • Organ cultures
  • Unfixed human tissues/organs

Although the Bloodborne Pathogens requirement, according to OSHA, applies to all employees who may be exposed to blood or OPIMS in the workplace, some frequent instances include but are not limited to:

  • Dentists and dental assistants
  • In-home healthcare providers such as visiting nurses
  • Medical care providers in private, industrial, correctional facility clinics
  • Medical researchers
  • Medical students
  • Nursing home, rehab, and long term care facility staff
  • Paramedics and other first responders
  • Pharmacists and pharmacy technicians
  • Physicians, nurses, surgeons, etc.
  • Police and paramedics
  • Sports coaches
  • Tattoo artists who are specifically be required to a take specialized bloodborne pathogens certification for tattoo artists in order to achieve state licensing requirements.

The bloodborne pathogen training program’s main purpose is to safeguard workers such as nurses and paramedics, firefighters and EMS from occupational exposure to blood and Other potentially infectious materials (OPIM).

Bloodborne pathogen consciousness training programs addresses subjects including exposure-response plans and safety requirements for limiting any potential exposures. Furthermore, all employees are obliged to be trained regularly, whether they have done it previously or are being trained for the first time. The subjects covered in Bloodborne Pathogens Certification are thoroughly explained below:

1.   Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

When there is a significant chance of exposure to blood or OPIMs, the OSHA Bloodborne Pathogens standard requires the use of personal protective equipment (PPE). Different varieties of personal protective equipment (PPE) are used to safeguard against germ transmission over various contact and droplet routes. The following are some of the most prevalent types of PPE used in the workplace:

  • Aprons/gowns
  • Face shields
  • Head/shoe covers
  • Latex, rubber, or nitrile gloves
  • Protective goggles/glasses
  • Surgical masks

2.   Hand sanitizing

Poor hand hygiene is one of the fastest ways for potential health hazards to spread, thus personnel must use correct handwashing practices. Hands should be scrubbed vigorously with soap and water for 40-60 seconds, followed by 20-30 seconds with an alcohol-based cleaning product. Hand sanitization is particularly necessary for the following situations:

  • After removing PPE
  • After contact with blood or OPIMs
  • Before or after patient care

3.   Universal Precautions (UP)

The CDC first suggested Universal Precautions (UP) in the 1980s as a strategy to protect personnel against HIV, HBV, and other bloodborne infections found in human blood, bodily fluids, and OPIMs. UP is an infection-prevention strategy in which all human blood and potentially infectious materials are addressed as though they are infectious, regardless of a patient’s illnesses or state of health.

4.   Sharps Safety

Since accidental sharps injuries are one of the most common exposure risks, the Needlestick Safety and Prevention Act was passed in 2000, and it particularly describes safe techniques for handling sharps. Sharps must be disposed of in a sharps container that is closable, puncture-resistant, leak-proof, and correctly labeled or color-coded. Sharps that are most commonly found in the workplace are:

  • Lancets
  • Needles
  • Scalpels
  • Syringes

5.   Exposure Control Plans

Accidental exposures to bloodborne pathogens are still a reality and something to plan for, even though training greatly minimizes the odds. If blood or other OPIMs come into contact with the eyes, mouth, nose, or if direct contact occurs such as needlestick injury, cut, abrasion, bite, immediate intervention is required to avoid further harm.

6.   Disposal

OSHA requires the use of containers that meet particular standards for transporting or discarding regulated wastes such as blood or other OPIMs.


The gift of life is the most precious present that anyone can give to another person, and blood is the most precious gift that anyone can provide. Donating blood can save a life, or possibly several lives, if the blood’s components, namely red cells, platelets, and plasma, are isolated and utilized separately for patients with specific illnesses.

However, infectious organisms in the blood that might cause disease in individuals if they are exposed to them are known as Bloodborne pathogens.

Some of the common pathogens include Hepatitis B (HBV) which is a virus that causes cirrhosis and liver disease;  Hepatitis C (HCV) that infects the liver;  HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus), a virus that attacks the body’s immune system, and Other Potentially Infectious Materials (OPIMs) that is any body fluid that is visibly contaminated with blood.

Health-care workers, otherwise known as HCWs, and even patients are at serious risk of contracting blood-borne infections. Moreover, transfusion-transmitted infections, or simply TTIs, occur after a pathogen is introduced into a person through blood transfusion. Taking efforts to decrease the risk of bloodborne pathogens exposure in the workplace, such as employing personal protective equipment (PPE), is critical for both employee safety and compliance with OSHA’s Bloodborne Pathogens regulation.

Compliance also necessitates the implementation of an exposure control plan that includes specifics on other personnel protections such as immunizations, engineering, several and work practice controls, and regular employee training, in addition to PPE. You can take bloodborne pathogens training right here and ensure you are covered.

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