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What Are The Most Common Bloodborne Pathogens? Everything You Need To Know

Bloodborne pathogens are infectious microorganisms that can be present in human blood and other bodily fluids like semen, vaginal secretions, and saliva. They carry a variety of diseases that can be transmitted from one person to another by having contact with mucous membranes, damaged skin, or through needle sticks.

Part of OSHA's Bloodborne Pathogens Standard requirements for employers is providing training to all workers and one of the first things these training covers is common bloodborne diseases. Do you know what are the most common bloodborne pathogens?

In this article, we will cover everything you need to know about the top three most common bloodborne pathogens, plus other less common diseases and how to prevent their transmission.

Check out EasyLlama’s Bloodborne Pathogens Training for effective training material that will get all of your employees certified and your company compliant with OSHA's standards.

Let's get started on the three most common bloodborne pathogens:

blood samples
blood samples


The Big Three

The bloodborne pathogens of primary concern, given their level of severity and easy transmission, are Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, and Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV).

Here is what you need to know about each of them:

Hepatitis B (HBV)

Hepatitis B is a rather serious liver infection that is caused by the virus HBV (Hepatitis B). It can be transmitted through unprotected sex, sharing needles or syringes, and other drug injection equipment. Transmission can also happen from mother to child at the time of birth.  

In most cases, a hepatitis B infection resolves itself, lasting for under six months, but unfortunately in other cases, it can become chronic. Because there is no actual cure for the condition, it can result in some serious, even life-threatening medical issues like liver failure, liver cancer, and cirrhosis. 

The age at the time of infection is related to the risk of it becoming a chronic condition. About 90% of children who contract the hepatitis B virus develop a chronic condition, and only 2% to 6% of adults infected become chronically ill.

Not all newly infected people have symptoms, but for those who do, they include:

  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Fever
  • Dark urine

The best way to prevent the hepatitis B virus is to get vaccinated. If you are at risk of occupational exposure, the OSHA Bloodborne Pathogens Standard requires your employer to offer you this vaccine at no cost.

Other preventive measures include the practice of protected sex and not sharing needles. OSHA’s requirements also promote the use of universal precautions when coming in contact with human blood or other potentially infectious materials.

Hepatitis C (HCV)

Hepatitis C is also a virus that affects the liver and it is most commonly transmitted by the use of injection drugs or from mother to baby during childbirth. Other less-frequent ways of transmission include unprotected sex, accidental needlestick injuries, and sharing personal items that may be contaminated with human blood (razors or toothbrushes)

People infected with the hepatitis C virus (HCV) can go for decades without showing any symptoms, and usually, when symptoms appear, it is a sign of advanced liver infection. These include the following:

  • Fever
  • Dark urine
  • Clay-colored stool
  • Joint pain
  • Vomiting

The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) estimates that more than 50% of people infected with the hepatitis C virus (HCV) will develop a chronic condition. The recommendation is for all adults to be tested at least once in a lifetime, and pregnant women should test once every pregnancy. Chronic infection can lead to serious health conditions like cirrhosis and liver cancer, however, there is hepatitis C treatment available and 90% of people can be cured.

Currently, there is no vaccination for hepatitis C. The best way to prevent it is to avoid behaviors that spread the disease and employing universal precautions when there is a risk of exposure to blood or other human bodily fluids.

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a virus that attacks the immune system (cells that help the body fight infections and other diseases), and if not treated, it can lead to Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS). 

The most common way of transmission is through sexual contact, transferring the virus via semen, vaginal fluids, pre-ejaculation, and blood. HIV can also be contracted by accidental needle sticks or sharing needles and mothers can pass the virus to their babies through breastfeeding.

Symptoms of HIV can present as a flu-like discomfort within 2 to 4 weeks after the infection and usually do not last very long. Possible symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Rash
  • Sore throat
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Night sweats
  • Swollen lymph nodes

Some people may not feel sick or present any symptoms at all, which is why this virus can easily turn into a chronic infection and eventually become AIDS. This is the most severe phase of HIV infection as the immune system is dangerously damaged at this point and many other severe illnesses such as tuberculosis, cervical cancer or pneumonia can develop. 

There is no cure for the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), once you get it, you have it for life. However, with proper medical treatment, it can be controlled and people can live long healthy lives without being contagious to others. Preventive measures include regular testing, practicing safe sex, and the use of universal precautions when there is a risk of exposure to infected blood.
Doctor
Doctor


What Are Other Commonly Contracted Bloodborne Pathogens?

There are many other bloodborne pathogens aside from “the big three”. Let’s review some other commonly contracted diseases and preventive measures we can put in practice to avoid the transmission of bloodborne pathogens.

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is a highly contagious infection that can cause liver inflammation and damage its function. It is mostly transmitted via contaminated food and sometimes by having unprotected sex or contact with infected blood. The common symptoms are:

  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Mild fever
  • Intense itching 

In most cases, the symptoms are very mild and do not last long, but sometimes they can extend for several months. This infection does not usually lead to long-term liver damage or become chronic, but older people and those with other serious health issues can present complications or even be at risk of death. 

The best way to prevent transmission is to maintain good hygiene when handling or preparing food. Also, practicing safe sex and being careful when being exposed to blood that is potentially infectious. Vaccination is currently available to protect you against hepatitis A.

Syphilis

Syphilis is a serious bacterial infection usually transmitted when having unprotected sex. When left untreated it can have severe consequences such as loss of muscle control, paralysis, and even dementia (if it reaches advanced stages).

The infection causes painless sores typically in the genitals, rectum, or mouth. Transmission occurs when a person’s skin or mucous membrane comes in contact with these sores during sexual relations. When these sores appear, treatment is necessary to prevent the infection from getting worse. These are some of the symptoms that occur during advanced stages:

  • Fever
  • Weight loss
  • Patchy hair loss
  • Fatigue
  • Numbness

There is currently no vaccine available to prevent syphilis but its treatment is highly effective when applied during early stages. The best prevention is practicing protected sex. 

Brucellosis

Brucellosis is an infectious disease that is caused by bacteria present in infected animals or animal products. The most commonly infected animals are sheep, pigs, goats, and cows. There are different ways in which this disease can be transmitted. The most common one is by eating undercooked meat or consuming dairy products that are raw or not pasteurized (milk, cheese, ice cream, etc…)

Bacteria can also enter the body through inhalation (breathing in the bacteria) and when damaged skin or mucous membranes come in contact with infected animals. The most common symptoms include:

  • Muscle or joint pain
  • Recurring fever
  • Fatigue
  • Headache

More severe symptoms that may become chronic are:

  • Arthritis
  • Swelling of the heart
  • Depression
  • Neurologic symptoms (can occur in up to 5% of cases)

Treatment for brucellosis is available and recovery can take from a few weeks to several months and no more than 2% of the cases result in death.

The best way to prevent and control brucellosis is to avoid consuming raw meat, or unpasteurized raw products. OSHA’s Bloodborne Pathogens Standard also requires the use of personal protective equipment (gloves, goggles, aprons) when handling animal tissues.

As you can see, there are many safety measures to keep in consideration to avoid contracting diseases caused by bloodborne pathogens. It is important to be aware and keep yourself safe especially if your occupation may put you at risk of exposure to blood or other infectious materials.

workplae safety
workplae safety


Reduce The Risk Of Bloodborne Pathogens Exposure At Work

If you are an employer and you are looking to reduce the hazards of occupational exposure to bloodborne pathogens, look no further.

EasyLlama is the only training platform you will ever need. We help your company become compliant with all the Bloodborne Pathogens training requirements by offering easy-to-access material that meets all the state and federal regulations.

Provide your employees with a training program that will keep them engaged, with real-life scenarios, interactive quizzes, and self-paced sessions. You have access to all training material from any device plus out rates are affordable and adjusted to your company's needs.