biologo.jpg (4764 bytes)Environmental Health & Safety

Bloodborne Pathogens Self-Study Unit

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BLOODBORNE PATHOGENS are AN OCCUPATIONAL HAZARD for employees who may be exposed to blood and other potentially infectious materials that may result from the performance of an employee's duties.

*Information in this unit was provided by UNCH Hospital Epidemiology, was adapted for use at UNC-CH, and was amended for use by USC.

Note: This self-study unit is intended for university employees. Employees should also refer to their specific department's Exposure Control Plan and other policies and procedures.


On December 6, 1991, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) published their standard for occupational exposure to bloodborne pathogens in the Federal Register. A component of this standard requires the employer to provide annual education regarding the occupational hazard of bloodborne pathogens. There are 13 required components of this education all of which are incorporated in this study module. It is important to remember that OSHA standards are federal law and compliance is mandatory . However, it is more important to recognize that this standard was established to help protect the healthcare worker from the serious workplace hazard of bloodborne pathogens.


Other body fluids besides blood have demonstrated a viral load sufficient to potentially transmit infection. These fluids are:

Also considered potentially infectious are unfixed tissue or body organs other than intact skin, and blood, organs, and tissues from experimental animals infected with HIV or HBV.


HIV, hepatitis B virus, and hepatitis C virus are the viruses most likely to be transmitted via the following routes in an occupational setting:


AIDS is the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, a serious illness that harms the body's ability to fight infection, and is caused by the HIV virus. 

During the incubation period, which may last for many years, there may be no signs that a person is infected with HIV; however, the person can still pass the virus on to others.

*The cumulative prevalence of HIV is estimated to be 1 million

*100% progress to chronic infection

*The risk of HIV infection after a single positive needle stick is .3%

( CDC, 1996 )

There is no known cure or vaccine available at this time; however, research is focused on developing treatments and a vaccine.


The spectrum of HIV infection ranges from an asymptomatic state to severe immunodeficiency and associated opportunistic infections, neoplasms, and other conditions. Initial infection can be followed by an acute flu-like illness.

As the disease progresses, severe and lasting symptoms may include:   recurrent fevers, rapid weight loss, anorexia, diarrhea, lymphadenopathy, night sweats, myalgia, arthralgia, rash, malaise, sore throat, white spots or unusual blemishes in the mouth, and headache. The natural history of HIV infection can vary considerably from person to person. The risk of disease progression increases with the duration of infection. HIV may attack the nervous system causing damage to the brain and spinal cord.

Most people infected with HIV develop AIDS and normally mild or rare diseases may turn into potentially fatal conditions such as pneumocystis carinii pneumonia. This lung infection is highly uncommon among healthy individuals.


Acute viral hepatitis is a common and sometimes serious viral infection of the liver leading to inflammation and necrosis. There are at least five distinct viral agents that cause acute viral hepatitis: HAV, HBV, HDV (delta), HCV, and HEV (an enterally transmitted non A, non B hepatitis agent).

Hepatitis B (HBV) or "serum hepatitis" was first reported in 1833 following the administration of smallpox vaccine containing human lymph to shipyard workers. 

*The cumulative prevalence of HBV is estimated to be 1 million, as is HIV.

*5% progress to chronic infection.

*The risk of HBV infection after a single positive needle stick is 30%

( CDC, 1996 )

Hepatitis B is far more common than HIV and is present in very high concentrations in the blood of infected persons. Anyone with HBV can spread the disease to others:

There are 2 phases of HBV:

1) The Acute Phase - occurs just after a person becomes infected and can last from a few weeks to several months. Some individuals recover after the acute phase, but others remain infected for the rest of their lives. Of those who become infected, only about 1/3 become symptomatic. Many people who are infected never have any signs of the disease and most people recover completely from Hepatitis B.

2) The Chronic Phase - Those who remain infected and become chronic carriers. The virus remains in their liver and blood. Nearly 10% of adult victims become carriers.


The clinical presentation of acute HBV ranges from asymptomatic, subclinical illness to fulminant hepatic failure. The disease has a long incubation period from 30 to 180 days. Initial symptoms are nonspecific, typically include malaise, anorexia, vomiting, fever, rash, and polyarthritis. These symptoms last 3-10 days. This is followed by the onset of jaundice and /or dark urine.

Fulminant viral hepatitis is defined as the development of severe acute liver failure with hepatic encephalopathy within 8 weeks of the onset of symptoms with jaundice.


Recombinant vaccines that consist of highly purified HBsAg particles expressed in yeast were licensed in the U.S. in 1986. Given as a series of three injections, the vaccine produces a high antibody titer in over 90% of recipients under the age of 40-50 years. Older age, obesity, heavy smoking, and immunologic impairments have been associated with lower anti HBs responses. The higher the antibody titer after vaccination, the longer anti HBs persists. When the anti HBs titer falls below 10 MlU/ml, HBV infections may occur but are always subclinical and usually without detectable serum HBsAg. There is no need for a booster dose of vaccine in those with positive HBs titers.

All USC employees who have reasonably anticipated exposure to blood or other potentially infectious materials will be offered the hepatitis B vaccine free of charge through Occupational Health Services. OSHA considers the hepatitis B vaccine so important that employees will be required to sign a declination statement if they choose to not receive the vaccine. If you would like to delcline the vaccine please click here.

Those declining the vaccine may receive it at any later time as long as they remain an employee of USC.


Hepatitis C is a non A, non B virus; an RNA virus of various strains which undergo frequent mutations.

*Cumulative prevelance is estimated to be 4 million

*85% progress to chronic infection

*Risk of HCV infection after single positive needle stick is 3-10%

( CDC, 1996 )

The incubation period ranges from 2-6 months, most commonly 2-3 months. The period of communicability ranges from one or more weeks before onset of symptoms to months / years. 85% persist indefinitely and are chronic carriers. There is no pre or post-exposure prophylaxis or vaccine available at the time. There is no effective immune globulin preparation. Treatment is not without side effects and HCV is the leading cause of liver transplants. The physical and emotional health impact, not to mention the long term consequences and economic burden, is very significant.


Approximately 1 in 5 persons have no symptoms with acute HCV infection.

Early signs of HCV are often nonspecific, ie:  Fatigue, fever, headaches, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, abdominal pain, jaundice, dark-colored urine, clay-colored stools, abnormal liver function tests, and positive HCV serologies.

HCV can cause: inflammation of liver cells, cirrhosis, hepatocellular carcinoma, immunologic abnormalities, and other complications. Alcohol clearly worsens the course of HCV.


1) Administrative Controls:  Exposure Control Plan

USC's Exposure Control Plan for Bloodborne Pathogens is available to all employees. To receive a copy please call Environmental Health and Safety at 777-5269. This document contains a complete listing of all job categories that have been identified as having the risk of occupational exposure to bloodborne pathogens. Also the plan outlines management of employee exposures and methods to prevent exposure in the workplace. Directly behind the Exposure Control Plan is a copy of the OSHA standard. Every employee should be familiar with the Exposure Control Plan and the OSHA standard for bloodborne pathogens.

2) Standard Precautions

Standard Precautions (formerly referred to as Universal Precautions) are essential to reducing the occupational acquisition of a bloodborne pathogen. 

Standard Precautions mean that we treat every patient as if they are infected with a bloodborne pathogen such as HIV,HBV, or HCV. Standard Precautions also require that exposed employees use personal protective equipment to prevent direct contact with blood or body fluids. The consistent practice of Standard Precautions is the best method that employees can use to protect themselves from occupationally acquiring a bloodborne disease.

3) Engineering Controls

An engineering control is a device that removes the hazard from the workplace.

Employers are required to provide engineering controls that have been demonstrated to significantly reduce an occupational hazard. Examples of engineering controls used at USC for bloodborne pathogens are sharps disposable containers, self-sheathing needles, and safer medical devices such as sharps with engineered sharps injury protection and needleless systems.

4) Work Practice Controls

Work practice controls are designed to change the way in which a task is performed to reduce the likelihood of exposure to bloodborne pathogens. Examples of work practice controls are: needles are not recapped; specimens are transported in a secondary container; and sharps are disposed of immediately after use by placing them in a sharps container. Healthcare workers are responsible for carefully disposing of all sharps (e.g., syringes with needles attached, scalpels, razors) immediately after use.

5) Personal Protection Equipment

Personal protective equipment (PPE) is specialized clothing and equipment worn by an employee for protection against a hazard such as blood or other potentially infectious materials. PPE should be readily available and provided to the employee at no cost. Employees should never put themselves at risk of exposure to bloodborne pathogens by not using the appropriate protective equipment.

PPE should be removed after use. Care should be taken not to contaminate the skin. Soiled gowns, gloves, etc. should be disposed of in the regular trash immediately at the point of use and hands thoroughly washed. Goggles and safety glasses should be cleaned regularly.


biologo.jpg (4764 bytes)The universal BIOHAZARD sign is used to alert employees that containers, specimen refrigerators, or secondary containers used to transport specimens may contain infectious materials. Individual tubes of blood or primary specimen containers do not need to be labeled, however, secondary containers used for manually transporting specimens must display the BIOHAZARD sign. Additionally, equipment that may have internal contamination that cannot be accessed for decontamination should be labeled with a BIOHAZARD tag denoting the area of suspected contamination. This alerts the maintenance or medical engineering employee to use precautions when handling the equipment.


Equipment such as blood pressure cuffs and stethoscopes must be cleaned if contaminated with blood or other potentially infectious materials. An EPA approved disinfectant detergent (i.e., Vesphene) or a 1:10 or 1:100 dilution of bleach and water should be used.


Specimens should not be hand carried; all specimens must be transported in a secondary container displaying a BIOHAZARD label. The primary specimen container and accompanying tags and/or labels must be free of any contamination.


Certain items are required by South Carolina state law to be incinerated and are referred to as regulated medical waste. Regulated medical waste includes:  microbiological cultures, pathology specimens, blood products (includes blood, serum, plasma, emulsified human tissue, spinal fluid, pleural and peritoneal fluid), full sharps containers. The following table indicates the method of disposal for each type of waste.

Disposal of Regulated Waste

Regulated Waste Disposal Method:

Bloodincineration; sanitary sewer

Microbiological Waste Incineration; steam sterilization

Contaminated Sharps Incineration; steam sterilization then sanitary landfill

Pathological Waste Incineration

bio.gif (44805 bytes)Blood contaminated waste should be placed in the orange plastic trash bags labeled with the BIOHAZARD sign. These bags are located in individual departments.

Remember the biohazard bags are a plastic that can easily be punctured.

All  healthcare and laboratory workers must dispose of all sharps in the designated sharps containers to prevent sharp injuries to housekeeping staff.

Wet, Contaminated Linen

Contaminated linen should not be sorted or handled any more than necessary for disposal. Fluid resistant linen bags are available for use when disposing of wet, contaminated linen. Linen should be double bagged when necessary to prevent leaking.


Working with hand dermatitis puts you at greater risk of infection from bloodborne pathogens. All employees who develop dermatitis should be evaluated and treated prior to work involving exposure to blood.


The following events are considered an exposure incident:   percutaneous injury involving a potentially contaminated needle or other sharps, splash of blood or other potentially infectious materials to the eyes, mouth, or mucous membranes blood or other potentially infectious materials contacting broken skin.


Do not delay treatment for any reason.

If possible, immediately wash or flush the exposed area with soap and / or water.

During normal working hours: Monday - Friday, 8:00 am - 5:00 pm, please report to the School of Medicine Employee Health Center at the Richland Family Medicine Center located on campus of Palmetto Richland Memorial Hospital.

After normal working hours ( between 5:00 pm and 8:00 am the following work day),on weekends and holidays, please report to the Emergency Department at Palmetto Richland Memorial Hospital.

Be sure to inform the personnel that the injury is an exposure to bloodborne pathognens and / or a needle stick.

For employees or students working in satellite clinics and hospitals that are located out of town:  Report to the nearest hospital's Emergency Department

* If you do not receive immediate attention, please call the USC Campus Police at ( 803) 777-9111.

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You have completed this self-study unit. Call Environmental Health and Safety at 777-5269 for questions and discussion.

We would like to assess your learning and also document your participation in this self study. To do this, we have provided a short multiple choice test. To take this test, you may click on the highlighted Post-test now. Also you must complete and return to Health & Safety the Hep B Vertification and Declination form.