Despite the crucial role of blood in our bodies, blood can contain infectious organisms that may pose a risk to every individual, especially healthcare providers such as pharmacists. These infectious organisms are called bloodborne pathogens.
Due to the continuance of the COVID19 pandemic into 2023, pharmacies have been expanding the front-line delivery of essential medications. Pharmacists can be exposed to bloodborne pathogens through blood along with body fluids other potentially infectious materials (OPIM). It is the employers, as well as the pharmacies regulatory responsibility to prevent, mitigate, and respond to hazardous exposures and potential exposure.
Moreover, exposures and potential exposures to blood-borne pathogens among healthcare workers are prevalent. Multiple studies in the United States have found that over 400,000 healthcare workers are exposed each year, with one out of every ten experiencing a splash exposure or a needle stick injury. OSHA updated the Bloodborne Pathogens (BBP) standard to prioritize needlestick safety with the Needlestick Safety and Prevention Act 2000.
Bloodborne Pathogens Overview
A bloodborne pathogen is any pathogenic microorganism identified in the blood or other infectious material that has the potential to cause disease in individuals. For an infected person’s pathogen to spread, the infected person’s body fluids must enter another person’s bloodstream.
Approximately 20 different diseases have been attributed to the spread of bloodborne pathogens. Listed below are some of the Bloodborne pathogens:
- Arboviral infections
- Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease
- Hepatitis B and C viruses
- The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
- Relapsing fever
- Viral hemorrhagic fever.
However, the three bloodborne illnesses most associated with occupational exposures in pharmacies are hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and HIV. As a result, pharmacists are in danger of contracting these viruses via blood and bodily fluids:
1. Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) weakens the immune system until it can no longer effectively fight infection, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). A compromised immune system manifests itself in a low-grade fever, flu-like symptoms, night sweats, and weight loss.
2. Hepatitis B virus (HBV)
Hepatitis B virus is a long-term infection that affects about 5% of adult patients. Furthermore, it is associated with a 20% lifetime risk of cirrhosis and a 6% lifetime risk of dying from liver cancer. Jaundice, nausea, fever, and abdominal pain are some of the symptoms.
3. Hepatitis C virus (HCV)
Because there is no vaccine for HCV, it is a big concern in cases of occupational risk. Furthermore, the hepatitis C virus causes serious liver damage, which might result in death. Infection can manifest itself in a variety of ways, including no symptoms or only a few minor ones.
More information on protecting yourself from the top three bloodborne pathogens.
OSHA Bloodborne Pathogens Standard & Pharmacies
The Needlestick Safety and Prevention Act of 2000, as appended to OSHA’s Bloodborne Pathogens Standard, was established to provide work guidelines. Its procedures aim to safeguard employees from bloodborne pathogen-related health hazards. Under this standard, it is stated that employers should have a system in place for reporting exposures so that they can rapidly assess the risk of infection. Moreover, they must notify employees about accessible treatments to help prevent infection, employees should be monitored for medication adverse effects and to see if an infection has arisen.
Exposure control plans, engineering, hazard communication and training, hepatitis B vaccinations, recordkeeping, and work practice controls are all covered by the standard. Hence, every guideline must be followed by employers of workers who may be exposed to blood or other potentially infectious materials. Specific OSHA rules for general industries cover bloodborne pathogens and needlesticks.
Services that may Put Pharmacists at Risk of Bloodborne Pathogen Exposure
Pharmacy employees may be exposed to blood and other potentially infectious materials (OPIM) while working at a drugstore. Among the services commonly offered at pharmacies and drugstores are:
- Administering vaccines and other injectables
- Assessments of Patients for Clinical Services
- Point of Care Testing
- Rental DMEPOS returning and processing
From the point of patient interaction until the cleanup and disposal of any hazardous material, these services along with other services subject your employees to the risk of exposure. By having an Exposure Control Plan, you can be prepared from exposure possibilities to a bloodborne pathogen. These are useful to improve your policies, engineering controls, personal protective equipment, and training.
The Necessity of Training for Bloodborne Pathogens
It is mandatory to train your employees on every possible method of exposure. Workers who come into proximity with blood or bodily fluids, or who perform invasive medical operations, are especially vulnerable.
They should also be educated on how to avoid exposure and what to do if one has already developed. More importantly, only employees who have been taught your Exposure Control Plan should have access to the potential for exposure. When it comes to patient engagement, only qualified personnel, as defined by the state, should do so.
Before their initial assignment, every health care professional at risk of occupational exposure must get training for bloodborne pathogens, which must be repeated annually thereafter. The following are the training elements:
- Information about the epidemiology of bloodborne pathogens and illness manifestations in general.
- The post-exposure methods include contact information for medical evaluations as well as follow-up measures.
- Methods for identifying high-risk exposure tasks are explained. Explanation of the benefits and drawbacks of several strategies for reducing exposure, such as engineering controls, the right use, and selection of personal protective equipment (PPE), and work practice controls.
- PPE removal, handling, decontamination, and disposal information
- Protocols for reporting incidents.
- The employer’s exposure control plan will be explained.
- The Hepatitis B vaccination series is thoroughly discussed.
- Transmission modes and risks of bloodborne pathogens.
Employees must have access to training materials, including a copy of OSHA’s Bloodborne Pathogens Standard and instructions on how to access the exposure control plan. The training must be offered by a qualified individual at an acceptable educational level and in an understandable language. The trainer must allow enough time for the trainees to participate in an interactive question-and-answer session. Nowadays most employers offer their staff bloodborne pathogens training, and then follow up with the on-site elements.
Other Concerns: COVID 19
The global nature of the SARS-COV-2 virus highlighted the occupational risks faced by healthcare personnel. The availability and severe scarcity of basic PPE, such as masks, gloves, and gowns, posed a significant threat to adherence to regulations and the workers’ safety.
Having a Bloodborne Pathogen Standard compliant Exposure Control Plan will also give you the framework to follow any state and Federal recommendations and standards for protecting your personnel from COVID-19.
Pharmacy and drugstore staff are at risk from blood-borne infections.
A Pharmacy Exposure Control Plan is necessary especially for the employees who are at risk of occupational exposure to Bloodborne Pathogens. Your employees, patients, and customers, as well as the Pharmacy itself, are all protected by the Exposure Control Plan.
The Pharmacy Exposure Control Plan (ECPTrack) enables pharmacies to implement their exposure control plans. The program includes Policies, Procedures, and Exposure Control Plan, forms, and employee Bloodborne Pathogens training, all of which are essential for compliance with the Exposure Control Plan and OSHA Bloodborne Pathogen Standards and will assist you in meeting state and Federal COVID-19 obligations.