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Understanding Bloodborne Pathogens

Blood or body fluids may have germs (pathogens) that can cause disease. If there's an accident at work involving blood or body fluids, these germs can spread. The most common and serious bloodborne germs are the hepatitis B virus (HBV), hepatitis C virus (HCV), and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Once these germs infect you, you may become sick. In turn, the germs may spread to your loved ones. The 3 bloodborne germs described below are the most common causes of infections in the workplace.

Man's head and arm showing burn, rash, cut injuries to skin.
Disease-carrying blood or body fluids can enter through any body opening or break in skin. If they do, you may become infected with disease.

Hepatitis B virus (HBV)

  • HBV can cause severe damage to the liver. It can even lead to death.

  • A vaccine is available to help prevent HBV infection. This vaccine is given as 3 shots over a period of time.

  • Adults who aren't vaccinated and are exposed at work to another person's blood or body fluids can be given medicine or a vaccine after the exposure. This helps prevent infection from developing. 

Hepatitis C virus (HCV)

  • Like HBV, HCV can cause severe damage to the liver. It can lead to death.

  • There's no known vaccine for HCV.

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)

  • HIV makes it harder for the body to fight infection. It causes AIDS. This is a serious illness that can lead to death.

  • There's no known vaccine for HIV.

How bloodborne diseases infect you

Bloodborne diseases can infect you when:

  • You help an injured person without using a protective barrier between you and the infected person's blood or body fluids.

  • An object or surface with infected blood or body fluids on it touches your broken skin.

  • You touch your eyes, nose, or mouth with your hands, which have infected blood or body fluids on them.

  • You're pricked or scratched by a sharp object, such as broken glass or a needle, that has infected blood or body fluids on it.

Online Medical Reviewer: Chad Haldeman-Englert MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Marianne Fraser MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Raymond Kent Turley BSN MSN RN
Date Last Reviewed: 1/1/2022
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