Bloodborne pathogens are microorganisms such as viruses or bacteria that are carried in blood and can cause disease in people. There are many different bloodborne pathogens including malaria, syphilis, and brucellosis, but Hepatitis B (HBV) and the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) are the two diseases specifically addressed by the OSHA Bloodborne Pathogen Standard.
While this module will focus primarily on HBV and HIV, it is important to know which bloodborne pathogens (from humans or animals) you may be exposed to at work, especially in laboratories.
Hepatitis B (HBV)
In the United States, approximately 300,000 people are infected with HBV annually. Of these cases, a small percentage are fatal.
"Hepatitis" means "inflammation of the liver," and, as its name implies, Hepatitis B is a virus that infects the liver. While there are several different types of Hepatitis, Hepatitis B is transmitted primarily through "blood to blood" contact. Hepatitis B initially causes inflammation of the liver, but it can lead to more serious conditions such as cirrhosis and liver cancer.
There is no "cure" or specific treatment for HBV, but many people who contract the disease will develop antibodies which help them get over the infection and protect them from getting it again. It is important to note, however, that there are different kinds of hepatitis, so infection with HBV will not stop someone from getting another type.
The Hepatitis B virus is very durable, and it can survive in dried blood for up to seven days. For this reason, this virus is the primary concern for employees such as housekeepers, custodians, laundry personnel and other employees who may come in contact with blood or potentially infectious materials in a non first-aid or medical care situation.
The symptoms of HBV are very much like a mild "flu". Initially there is a sense of fatigue, possible stomach pain, loss of appetite, and even nausea. As the disease continues to develop, jaundice (a distinct yellowing of the skin and eyes), and a darkened urine will often occur. However, people who are infected with HBV will often show no symptoms for some time. After exposure it can take 1-9 months before symptoms become noticeable. Loss of appetite and stomach pain, for example, commonly appear within 1-3 months, but can occur as soon as 2 weeks or as long as 6-9 months after infection.
Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)
AIDS, or acquired immune deficiency syndrome, is caused by a virus called the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV. Once a person has been infected with HIV, it may be many years before AIDS actually develops. HIV attacks the body's immune system, weakening it so that it cannot fight other deadly diseases. AIDS is a fatal disease, and while treatment for it is improving, there is no known cure.
Estimates on the number of people infected with HIV vary, but some estimates suggest that an average of 35,000 people are infected every year in the US (in 2000, 45,000 new infections were reported). It is believed that as of 2000, 920,000 persons were living with HIV/AIDS in the United States. These numbers could be higher, as many people who are infected with HIV may be completely unaware of it.
The HIV virus is very fragile and will not survive very long outside of the human body. It is primarily of concern to employees providing first aid or medical care in situations involving fresh blood or other potentially infectious materials. It is estimated that the chances of contracting HIV in a workplace environment are only 0.4%. However, because it is such a devastating disease, all precautions must be taken to avoid exposure.
AIDS infection essentially occurs in three broad stages. The first stage happens when a person is actually infected with HIV. After the initial infection, a person may show few or no signs of illness for many years. Eventually, in the second stage, an individual may begin to suffer swollen lymph glands or other lesser diseases which begin to take advantage of the body's weakened immune system. The second stage is believed to eventually lead to AIDS, the third and final stage, in all cases. In this stage, the body becomes completely unable to fight off life-threatening diseases and infections.
Symptoms of HIV infection can vary, but often include weakness, fever, sore throat, nausea, headaches, diarrhea, a white coating on the tongue, weight loss, and swollen lymph glands.
If you believe you have been exposed to HBV or HIV, especially if you have experienced any of the signs or symptoms of these diseases, you should consult your physician or doctor as soon as possible.