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 such as syphilis, 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 or vomiting. Symptoms of jaundice (a distinct yellowing of the skin and eyes) and darkened urine will often occur as the disease progresses. However, half of those infected show no symptoms. 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. It is transmitted primarily through "blood to blood" contact. 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 3.9 million (1.8%) Americans have been infected with HCV. Each year, approximately 10,000 people die from HCV related infections: twice the number of those with Hepatitis B.
Symptoms are frequently non-specific, but may include jaundice, abdominal pain, fatigue, dark urine, loss of appetite or nausea. Chronic effects include cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer. It is now the number one cause for liver transplants in the United States. There is no vaccine for HCV, but there are anti-viral drugs that are used for those who have contracted the disease.
Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)
Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) attacks the body's immune system, weakening it so it can't fight other deadly diseases. Approximately 800,000 to 900,000 people in the United States are HIV positive. These numbers could be higher, as many people with HIV appear healthy and lead normal lives for years.
The HIV virus is very fragile and will not survive long outside the human body. It is primarily a concern to employees who provide first aid in situations involving fresh blood. It is estimated that there is only a 0.4% chance of contracting HIV in the workplace environment. However, because it is such a devastating disease, all precautions against exposure should be taken.
Symptoms of HIV infection can vary and occur in three stages:
First stage: occurs upon infection with HIV and may last for many years. During this period, the person may show few or no signs of illness
Second stage: an individual may begin to suffer symptoms of weakness, fever, sore throat, nausea, headaches, diarrhea, weight loss, swollen lymph nodes, and white coating of the tongue. During this stage the body's immune system becomes weakened. The second stage is believed to eventually lead to Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS).
Third (final) stage: the body becomes unable to fight life-threatening disease and infections. While treatment for it is improving, there is no vaccine for HIV or a cure for AIDS. It is a fatal disease.