How to Protect Yourself From the Top 3 Bloodborne Pathogens

Top Three Bloodborne Pathogens

Off the top of your head can you name the top three bloodborne pathogens and describe them? Do you know what a bloodborne pathogen really is, how it behaves, and how to protect yourself both at home and in the workplace? 

Training on bloodborne pathogen exposure is imperative for anyone that is likely to be exposed to blood or other potentially infectious bodily fluids in the course of their employment. In fact, this is called an ‘exposure determination’ and it is covered, along with other things, in the OSHA Bloodborne Pathogen Standard 29 CFR.1910.1030.

Types of workers that are often deemed to be at risk of blood borne pathogen exposure include first responders, janitorial staff and custodians, law enforcement, health care facility personnel, and individuals assigned to clean up after industrial accidents.

What is a Bloodborne Pathogen?

Bloodborne pathogens are microorganisms such as bacteria, parasites, viruses, and fungi amongst others, that are present in human blood that can cause disease. 

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration defines bloodborne pathogens as:

“Infectious microorganisms in human blood that can cause disease in humans. These pathogens include, but are not limited to, hepatitis B (HBV), hepatitis C (HCV) and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).”

The Top 3 Bloodborne Pathogens

HIV (Human immunodeficiency Virus)

The Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a virus that can develop into AIDS. It is a condition in humans that causes the immune system to deteriorate and fail, making the body more susceptible and less able to fight off other viruses and infections.

Symptoms of HIV can include fever, swollen glands, and lymph nodes, muscle and joint pain, headache, and sore throat. Currently, there is no cure for HIV or AIDS, so this disease can be considered life-threatening. That being said both HIV and AIDS can be very well managed in 2020 via combination antiviral treatments and other medications.

How to protect yourself from HIV

If you work around human blood or body fluids you must take the necessary precautions to protect yourself and your co-workers. Under the OSHA BPP standard, it is the employers’ responsibility to provide bloodborne pathogen training. The most common way that HIV is transmitted is via needlesticks and cuts, so the use of work practice and engineering controls are also vital, and also covered by the OSHA standard

Hepatitis B (HBV) and Hepatitis C (HCV)

Hepatitis B (HBV)

Nationwide, more than 1 million people are infected with Hepatitis B. This virus attacks the liver and can eventually cause liver cancer, chronic liver disease, and death if left untreated. 

It is important to be aware that Hepatitis B can survive outside the body for up to 7 days in dried blood, and it can also be transmitted through other body fluids. This makes knowing about and following Bloodborne Pathogens cleanup procedures especially important.

Fortunately, a hepatitis B vaccination has been available since 1982, and as part of the bloodborne pathogens standard employers must offer this vaccination at no cost to workers at risk of occupational exposure.

  • An estimated 850,000 people in the United States have hepatitis B, but the real figure may be closer to 2.2 million.
  • Around 257 million people around the world have hepatitis B.
  • There are approximately 21,000 new infections in the U.S. each year.
  • Transmission often occurs as a result of childbirth, unprotected sex with a person who has the virus, sharing needles or medical equipment that involves blood (such as glucose monitors), or sharing personal items, such as razors or toothbrushes.
  • A recent study suggests that Hepatitis B DNA can be transmitted through saliva.
  • There is a national Hepatitis Week that also provides your online hepatitis newsletter.
  • Hepatitis Week privides the latest updates on Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C.
Bloodborne Pathogen Hepatitis Symptoms

Hepatitis C (HCV)

With over 3.9 million infected people in the U.S. Hepatitis C is the most common chronic bloodborne infection and like HBV, it attacks the liver. Symptoms of HCV can take years to manifest but can include flu-like symptoms, dark urine, jaundice, vomiting and abdominal pain and vomiting, and fatigue. 

Even though drugs have been developed for the treatment (not prevention) of HCV, only 10-40% of patients respond to the medication.

Ther is no vaccination against HCV. 

  • An estimated 3.5 million people in the U.S. live with hepatitis C. About 75 percent of those with hepatitis C were born between 1945 and 1965.
  • About 41,000 new infections occur in the U.S. each year.
  • Transmission occurs due to exposure to infected blood, which can occur through sharing needles, poor infection control, or childbirth.

How to protect yourself from Hepatitis (HBV & HCV)

In addition to all the advice on avoiding HIV we outlined above there is an important distinction to be made, the transmission of hepatitis C usually only occurs through blood-to-blood contact but is much more infectious if this contact does occur.


Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is an infection caused by a strain of staph bacteria that is also resistant to many antibiotics. People who carry MRSA but do not have signs of infection can spread the bacteria to others and potentially cause an infection.

Outside of Healthcare Settings

In the community MRSA most often causes skin infections. In some cases, it causes pneumonia (lung infection) and other infections. If left untreated, MRSA infections can become severe and cause sepsis which is the body’s extreme response to an infection.

In Healthcare Settings

In places such as a hospital, nursing home or other healthcare facilities, MRSA can cause severe problems such as

Learn more about how to control bloodborne pathogens in healthcare settings.

How to protect yourself from MRSA

In addition to the general advice you already learned, you can take these steps to reduce your risk of MRSA infection:

  • Maintain good hand and body hygiene. Clean hands often, and clean your body regularly, especially after exercise.
  • Keep cuts, scrapes, and wounds clean and covered until healed.
  • Avoid sharing personal items such as towels and razors.
  • Get care early if you think you might have an infection.

Transmission of Bloodborne Pathogens

Most bloodborne pathogens are transmitted when blood or body fluid from an infected person enters the bloodstream of another person. This can happen through abrasions, needlesticks, human bites, or through mucous membranes of the eyes, mouth, and nose.

Not everyone who has been infected with a bloodborne pathogen knows they have been infected. Therefore, it is important to treat all blood and body fluids as if they contain a life-threatening illness. 

This concept is known as exercising Universal Precautions and is also a part of the Bloodborne Pathogen Standard and covered in the OSHA mandated training for bloodborne pathogens curriculum.

If you are faced with a situation that requires you to handle blood or body fluids, reaching out for help is the best way to protect yourself from infection.

To learn everything you need to know about bloodborne pathogens you can take our OSHA compliant Bloodborne pathogens training free.

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