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Understanding Bloodborne Pathogens

Hand and forearm showing hangnails, cut, burn, rash, and dry skin. Front view of face.
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.
Blood or body fluids may have pathogens (germs) that can cause disease. If there is an accident at work involving blood or body fluids, these germs can be 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.

Hepatitis B virus (HBV)

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

  • A vaccine is available to help prevent hepatitis B 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 hepatitis B, hepatitis C can cause severe damage to the liver. It can lead to death.

  • There is no known vaccine for HCV.

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)

  • HIV makes it harder for the body to fight infection. HIV causes acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). This is a serious illness that can lead to death.

  • There is no known vaccine for HIV.

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.

  • Contaminated body fluids on your unwashed hands come in contact with your eyes, nose, or mouth.

  • You are 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: Horowitz, Diane, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Image reviewed by StayWell medical illustration team.
Date Last Reviewed: 5/1/2018
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