Who Is At Risk Of Infection From Bloodborne Pathogens? – Biohazard Cleanup USA

Bloodborne Pathogens Explained

Workplace Sharps Injuries and Exposure to Bloodborne Pathogens

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), Hepatitis C, and Hepatitis B are 3 of the bloodborne pathogens that people working in the healthcare industry are at greatest risk of exposure to. The potential for exposure to these viruses comes in one of two ways:

  • Injury from sharp objects contaminated with the virus.
  • Contact of some broken skin or mucous membrane with blood, tissue, or any other potentially infectious fluid from the infected patient.

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)


HIV is a virus that disables the immune system of the body to such an extent that it is unable to fight off infection. If a person’s immune system is compromised, he or she may suffer from night sweats, weight loss, a persistent, low-grade fever, and flu-like symptoms. The person is also more vulnerable to intestinal disorders, fungal infections, and pneumonia.

HIV Transmission Risk

The risk of HIV transmission via sharps is about 1 in 300 or 0.3 percent. The CDC has had 57 documented cases, and 140 possible cases of HIV transmission to people working in healthcare in the US from 1981 to 2006. Out of the 57 cases documented, 48 relate to percutaneous injuries i.e. cuts and/or punctures.

Most of the cases were lab technicians or nurses. According to research conducted by third parties, it is believed that the actual number of cases of occupation-acquired infection is much higher.

Hepatitis B


Hepatitis B is a virus that can cause serious liver damage or even death in some cases. Symptoms include fever, nausea, jaundice, abdominal pain, as well as cirrhosis in severe cases. 5 to 10 percent of patients that contract the virus are at risk of developing chronic infections. Chronic infections actually have an estimated 20 percent lifetime risk of dying due to cirrhosis as well as a 6 percent risk of dying due to liver cancer. It is believed that the risk of infection with Hepatitis B due to a sharps injury is between 6 and 30 percent.

Risk of Transmission or Injury

National surveillance data relating to Hepatitis B indicates that about 400 people working in healthcare became infected with the virus over the course of 2001. This is actually a 95 percent decline over the estimated infection rate back in 1983, when it is believed that new infections stood at 17,000. The reduction can be largely attributed to the fact that today’s healthcare workers are immunized against Hepatitis B and there are new and improved universal precautions that OSHA now requires.

Hepatitis C


Hepatitis C can lead to serious if not fatal liver damage. Infection can occur either without symptoms completely or with just mild symptoms. Chronic Hepatitis developed in most (75 to 80 percent) of the people that get infected, while 70 percent of the people that develop chronic Hepatitis C eventually get an active liver disease. 10 to 20 percent of those eventually suffer from cirrhosis, while between 1 and 5 percent eventually develop liver cancer.

Risk of Injury and Transmission

The overall prevalence of Hepatitis C infection in people working in healthcare is just about the same as the prevalence in the general population. However, healthcare workers are still at a greater occupational risk. Overall, between 1 and 2 percent of people working in healthcare suffer from Hepatitis C at some point in their lives. Research conducted by the CDC reveals that the risk of infection following exposure to infected blood through an open wound or a needlestick is about 1.8 percent. Other studies conducted more recently revealed that there’s a link between sharps-related injuries and Hepatitis C infections, but it is hard to find recent statistics. Between 2 and 4 percent of the acute Hepatitis C infections occurring annually from 1991 to 1996 were healthcare workers exposed to the virus in their line of work.

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