How are Bloodborne Diseases Transmitted? Safety Information

Bloodborne Diseases Transmission

Bloodborne disease is classified as any of a group of diseases caused by pathogens such as viruses or bacteria that are transported in and spread through contact with blood or other potentiall infectious materials (OPIM). 

A common misconception is that there only a few bloodborne diseases, most people naturally think of HIV, Hepatitis B, and Hepatitis C. These are undoubtedly the top 3 bloodborne diseases but there are also many other types. 

Within the bloodborne pathogens class, there are also Viral hemorrhagic fevers, such as the Ebola virus disease and Lassa fever.

Diseases that are not usually transmitted directly by blood contact, but instead by insects or other vectors, are usefully classified as vector-borne disease rather than blood borne disease, even though the causative agent can be found in blood.

Vector-borne diseases include West Nile virus, zika virus, and malaria – all of these viruses are mainly transmitted by human blood passed on via mosquito bites.

It is also important to note that there are many other methods of transmission, like airborne pathogens that spread diseases like COVID19, and waterborne pathogens.

Waterborne pathogens are not a huge risk in the USA as they are in some continents like Africa, that have high rates of Enterovirus. However, they may be closer to home than you think as Waterborne Pathogens: Toxoplasma is the pathogen that causes toxoplasmosis, which your domestic cat may very well be carrying. 

WaterBorne Pathogens Toxoplasma
Your cat may be harbouring Toxoplasma a waterborne pathogen.

How Bloodborne Disease is Transmitted

Infection with bloodborne pathogens occurs through direct contact with contaminated blood, blood products or other potentially infectious materials (OPIM).

Specific routes of infection include contact with blood via needles or other sharp objects (sharps), blood transfusions with blood that has not been screened for the presence of infectious agents, and transmission from mother to child during pregnancy or childbirth. 

Some bloodborne pathogens can also be transmitted through contact with other bodily fluids, like cerebrospinal fluid, amniotic fluid, vaginal secretions, and semen.

Types of Bloodborne Diseases

Hepatitis B is caused by infection with the hepatitis B virus (HBV). Although some people do not experience symptoms when infected, others can suffer jaundice, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, grey stools, abdominal pain and vomiting, and joint aches. 

Infection can become chronic, particularly in individuals who become infected in infancy, and chronic infection can lead to cirrhosis of the liver, and liver cancer.

There is no cure for Hepatitis B but it can be prevented through vaccination.

Hepatitis C is caused by infection with the hepatitis C virus (HCV). Individuals at the highest risk of this bloodborne disease include intravenous drug users and people who undergo blood transfusions with unscreened blood or blood products. 

Most individuals infected with HCV are asymptomatic, but chronic hepatitis C infection can result in severe liver damage and liver cancer. 

Although there is no vaccine for hepatitis C, liver function and immune activity against the virus can be well managed with programs of drug treatment.

HIV, which is the cause of AIDS, is transmitted primarily through human blood. Possible routes of infection include unprotected sexual activity, the use of unsterilized needles, and the transfusion of contaminated blood. 

In the advanced stages of AIDS the immune system failure opens the way for opportunistic infections and unusual cancers, particularly Kaposi sarcoma. 

There is no vaccine for AIDS, though medical treatments are available and it is easily managed in 2020.

Viral hemorrhagic fevers are caused by bloodborne viruses that damage the vascular system, resulting in extensive external or internal bleeding (hemorrhaging). 

Most viral hemorrhagic fevers are zoonotic, which means that they are being transmitted to humans by animals like rodents, or insects. 

Symptoms typically include fever, dizziness, fatigue, muscular aches, loss of energy, exhaustion, and bleeding under the skin, in internal organs, and from body orifices. 

There are no vaccines to protect against viral hemorrhagic fevers, and treatment is mainly supportive. Infection can be prevented by avoiding contact with host species and controlling rodent and insect populations. Viral hemorrhagic fevers can be spread from human to human through physical transmission contact; so, the isolation of infected individuals is the best way of preventing infection.

Prevention And Control

Most exposures to bloodborne disease can be prevented through the use of barrier methods) during sexual intercourse, avoidance of injecting for recreational drug use, and the use of screened blood for blood transfusions. 

Since it is difficult to determine what pathogens any given sample of blood contains, and some blood-borne diseases are lethal, standard medical practice regards all blood (and any type of body fluid) as potentially infectious. Blood and Body Fluid precautions are a type of infection control practice that seeks to minimize bloodborne disease transmission.

Health-care workers generally also adhere to a prescribed set of practices, or universal standard precautions, to minimize the risk of infection to themselves and patients. 

Standard precautions to help prevent the transmission of the bloodborne disease include the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) – for example disposable gloves, protective eyewear, and face masks. This is combined with consistent hand hygiene, and the sterilization and proper disposal of needles and other sharp objects in a designated sharps container.

Immunization against hepatitis B and postexposure management, such as the provision of prophylactic medication, are also recommended for healthcare workers and others at high risk of exposure to bloodborne pathogens.

Workers at risk of exposure to human blood in the workplace are generally covered by the OSHA bloodborne pathogen standard. The standard outlines how employers must protect their workers by having an exposure control plan, offering free HBV immunizations and ensuring employees take annual bloodborne pathogen training.

We offer a full suite of bloodborne pathogen training courses for individuals and organizations.

Individuals can take our bloodborne pathogens training.

Employers, agency owners and facility managers needing to get their staff and bloodborne pathogens certification can get group discounts on our streamlined Bloodborne Pathogens group training.

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