Transmitting Bloodborne Pathogens

Image of blood collection.
Phlebotomists are required to wear disposable gloves when collecting blood samples.

Fluids that Spread Bloodborne Pathogens

The transmission of bloodborne pathogens from one person to another occurs through the transfer of infected body fluids.

Common body fluids which can transmit pathogens include:

  • blood
  • cerebral spinal fluid
  • semen
  • vaginal secretions

Semen and vaginal secretions can transmit bloodborne pathogens, but only during sexual contact.

Wearing disposable gloves can help protect you from accidental exposure to bloodborne pathogens.

1. As part of his job, Trent is routinely exposed to patient blood and other bodily fluids. Which of the following actions would most likely transmit a bloodborne pathogen from the patient to Trent?

a. Getting a patient's blood splashed into the eyes
b. Shaking a thankful patient's hand
c. Using the telephone at the hospital
d. Pushing a wheelchair

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Fluids that Do Not Spread Bloodborne Pathogens

Some body fluids have no documented risk of transmitting pathogens, including:

  • sweat
  • saliva
  • urine
  • feces

Although the risk of contracting a pathogen from these bodily fluids might be low, you may not always be able to tell which fluids you are handling, or whether an injury has mixed them with blood.

For example, a severe abdominal injury could cause blood to be present in urine or feces. Therefore, it is best to protect yourself from ALL bodily fluids.

2. Why is it important to assume all bodily fluids may be capable of transmitting bloodborne pathogens?

a. Because it's an OSHA requirement
b. Because there might unseen blood mixed with the fluids
c. Because bloodborne pathogens are in all bodily fluids
d. Because it's best to do so to avoid litigation

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How Bloodborne Pathogens are Transmitted

There are two basic categories of transmission of bloodborne pathogens:

  1. Non-occupational bloodborne pathogens are most commonly transmitted through:
    • sexual contact; or
    • sharing hypodermic needles.
  2. Occupational bloodborne pathogens are most commonly transmitted through:
    • puncture wounds from a sharp or contaminated object, such as broken glass; or
    • from a splash of blood to the mucous membranes of the eyes, nose, or mouth.

3. Which of the following is a way non-occupational bloodborne pathogens are transmitted?

a. Having blood splashed into eyes
b. Shaking a patient's hand
c. Sharing hypodermic needles
d. Puncture wound from a sharp object

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Protect Yourself from All Bodily Fluids

It's important to remember the hepatitis B virus can remain infectious outside of the body for up to 7 days. For this reason, it is essential that cleanup and decontamination of contaminated objects and surfaces be performed as soon as possible. This will reduce the risk of indirect contact resulting in a bloodborne exposure incident.

Understanding how bloodborne pathogens are transmitted will help reduce your risk of exposure and infection. How can health care workers be exposed to bloodborne pathogens on the job? There are three categories of contact to bloodborne pathogens: casual, direct, and indirect.

  1. Casual social contact, such as casually shaking hands, hugging, or sharing a telephone or tool, does not transmit bloodborne pathogens
  2. Direct contact any contact with blood or other potentially infectious materials (OPIM) can directly cause an exposure incident. Examples include:
    • Needlesticks or cuts from used needles or sharps
    • Contact of your eyes, nose, mouth, or broken skin with blood
    • Assaults – bites, cuts, or knife wounds
    • Splashes or punctures – especially when drawing blood
  3. Indirect contact with a contaminated object, such as a countertop, bedding, or clothing, can indirectly cause an exposure incident

4. How long can the Hepatitis B virus remain infectious outside of the body?

a. 5 days
b. 14 days
c. 3 days
d. 7 days

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How can you protect yourself?

Generally, engineering controls, work practice controls, and personal protective equipment are most common exposure control methods. Each of the actions below are effective methods to help protect against exposure to bloodborne pathogens.

  • Get the hepatitis B vaccine
  • Read and understand your employer’s Exposure Control Plan
  • Dispose of used sharps promptly into an appropriate sharps disposal container
  • Use sharps devices with safety features whenever possible
  • Use personal protective equipment (PPE), such as gloves and face shields, every time there is a potential for exposure to blood or body fluids
  • Clean work surfaces with germicidal products

If you are exposed to bloodborne pathogens, take the following actions:

  • Wash needlesticks and cuts with soap and water
  • Flush splashes to nose, mouth, or skin with water
  • Irrigate eyes with clean water, saline, or sterile wash
  • Report all exposures promptly to ensure that you receive appropriate followup care

5. Each of the following is an effective way to protect against exposure to bloodborne pathogens EXCEPT _____.

a. using gloves and face shields when exposure is possible
b. hand-recapping needles prior to disposal
c. cleaning work surfaces with germicidal products
d. understanding the Exposure Control Plan

Check your Work

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Jasmine is a daycare worker taking care of children between the ages of 6 months and 12 years. Kevin is a 3-year-old child at the daycare center and has been complaining of a stomachache. Suddenly Kevin begins to vomit unexpectedly. After Kevin's parents have been called to pick him up, Jasmine is asked to clean up the mess.

Should Jasmine be concerned about bloodborne pathogens?


Although vomit is not documented as a risk for transmitting bloodborne pathogens, it is often impossible to determine if there is blood mixed in with the vomit. Even a very small amount of blood has the potential to transmit disease. You should always prevent contact with bodily fluids, regardless of whether blood is visible in the fluids.

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