Bloodborne pathogens are pathogenic microorganisms such as viruses or bacteria which are carried in the blood and body fluids and can cause disease in people. There are many different bloodborne pathogens, but the Hepatitis B Virus (HBV), Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) and the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) are the three viruses that pose the greatest concern to people. These diseases are specifically addressed by the OSHA Bloodborne Pathogen standard.
HEPATITIS B VIRUS (HBV)
Hepatitis means inflammation of the liver. Hepatitis B is a virus that can infect the liver. This inflammation can lead to more serious conditions such as chronic liver disease, cancer, or death. More than 5,000 people die annually from HBV-related liver disease.
Symptoms may include fatigue, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting. Symptoms of jaundice, a distinct yellowing of the skin and eyes, and darkened urine will often occur as the disease progresses. Half of those infected show no symptoms and others may show symptoms as soon as 2 weeks or as long as 6-9 months after infection.
Hepatitis B is the most easily transmitted bloodborne pathogen. The only way to confirm it is by blood test. There is no cure or specific treatment for HBV, but fortunately there is an effective vaccine.
HEPATITIS C VIRUS (HCV)
The Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) can also cause a liver infection. It is estimated that 3.5 million Americans are living with an active, chronic Hep C infection. In 2014, there were 19,659 deaths from HCV related infections.
Symptoms are frequently non-specific, but may include jaundice, abdominal pain, fatigue, dark urine, loss of appetite and nausea. Hep C may lead to cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer.
There is no vaccine for HCV, but there are anti-viral drugs that are used for those who have contracted the disease.
HUMAN IMMUNODEFICIENCY ViIRUS (HIV)
Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) attacks the body’s immune system, weakening it so that it cannot fight other deadly diseases. Approximately 1.2 million people in the United States are HIV positive. 1 in 8 people may not be aware that they are infected.
The HIV virus is very fragile and will not survive very long outside of the human body. It is primarily a concern to employees who provide first aid in situations involving fresh blood. Even though the chance of contracting HIV in the workplace environment is low and the number of new cases is on the decline, because it is such a devastating disease, all precautions against exposure should be taken.