In 2019, the CDC estimated that there were 20,700 Hepatitis B infections in the United States alone.

Hepatitis B is a bloodborne pathogen that causes an infection that affects the liver. It is potentially life-threatening. 

Every year, thousands of people suffer from Hepatitis B and other bloodborne pathogens. If more people understood how bloodborne pathogens are transmitted, they could prevent that suffering.

Keep reading to learn more about how the most common bloodborne pathogens are transmitted, and how to get training on preventing the transmission of bloodborne pathogens.

What Are Bloodborne Pathogens?

Bloodborne pathogens are microorganisms that enter the body through contact with human blood. Once these microorganisms enter the body, they can cause illnesses.

Bloodborne pathogens also enter the body through contact with other potentially infectious materials (OPIM).

There are three main bloodborne pathogens.

The first main bloodborne pathogen is the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), which causes AIDS. The second is Hepatitis B (HBV), and the third is Hepatitis C (HCV).

How is HIV Transmitted?

HIV is a virus that attacks the human body’s immune system. It causes AIDS, which stands for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome.

HIV is a dangerous virus, and humans should try to avoid its transmission at all costs. 

The highest risk for transmitting the HIV virus is through anal sex without any kind of protection.

The bottom (also known as the person who is on the receiving end of the sexual act) is at a greater risk because the rectum lining is thin. This creates a greater chance for HIV entry through bodily fluids.

The top (or the person with the insertive role during sex) is also at risk, but less risk than the bottom. The top is at risk because HIV can enter the body through the opening at the end of the penis. 

Vaginal sex also puts people at risk for HIV, but not as much risk as anal sex. During vaginal sex, there is equal risk between partners of someone receiving the HIV virus. 

Women commonly contract HIV during vaginal sex because they can absorb HIV through the membranes in the vagina and the cervix. 

Fluid in the vagina can also contain HIV, and that fluid can enter a man’s penis. This is how men contract HIV through unprotected vaginal sex. 

HIV can also be transmitted via perinatal transmission, or the transmission of HIV from mother to baby. This is the most common situation where children get HIV. 

Perinatal transmission can occur during pregnancy, birth, or breastfeeding.

To prevent this situation, pregnant women should always receive a test for HIV so that doctors know what precautions to take.

HIV also spreads through the sharing of needles and syringes. Of course, HIV can spread through the sharing of any kind of drug equipment, but needles and syringes are the most common.

This is because when someone uses a needle to insert a drug and then gives that needle to someone else, the needle may still have human blood on it. The blood then enters the body when the recipient inserts the needle. 

It is also important to understand what circumstances do not lead to the transmission of HIV. You can’t get HIV from:

  • surfaces like counters, door handles, tables, or railings
  • bug bites
  • skin-to-skin contact 
  • saliva
  • donation of blood

Keep in mind that there is no vaccine currently available for HIV. That makes it especially important to take steps now to prevent transmission of the virus.

How is Hepatitis B Transmitted?

Hepatitis B is transmitted similarly to HIV. You can come into contact with Hepatitis B through:

  • unprotected sex (vaginal or anal)
  • sharing personal items like toothbrushes, nail clippers, etc.
  • perinatal transmission (mother to child)
  • sharing needles/syringes
  • biting (if the skin is broken)
  • tattoos with dirty needles

Like HIV, Hepatitis B is not transmitted through coughing or sneezing.

You should take extra precautions to prevent the transmission of Hepatitis B because it can be 100 times more concentrated in the blood than HIV. This makes it much easier to transmit.

Unlike HIV, there is a vaccine available for Hepatitis B. Doctors administer the Hepatitis B vaccine in three doses. They administer the first dose within 24 hours of a baby’s birth.

If you have children or plan to have children, make sure that they receive the Hepatitis B vaccine.

How is Hepatitis C Transmitted?

The most common way that Hepatitis C is transmitted is through sharing needles and syringes. 

It can also be transmitted in several ways that are fairly low-risk, including:

  • mother to child
  • sex (anal or vaginal)
  • personal items
  • occasionally, blood transfusions/organ transplants

If you have ever tested positive for Hepatitis C, make sure not to donate blood. If you do, you could potentially infect someone else. 

There is no available vaccine for Hepatitis C. The main way to prevent the spread of Hepatitis C is to be very careful when using needles and syringes. 

Only use clean, sterilized needles that have never been used before. Never use a needle or syringe that someone else has already used, even if you have cleaned the needle or syringe after use.

Transmission of Other Bloodborne Pathogens

Other, less common bloodborne pathogens include brucellosis, malaria, and syphilis.

Brucellosis is an infection that starts in animals, but it can transfer to humans. This usually happens through eating raw dairy items or drinking unpasteurized milk. 

Occasionally, brucellosis can be transmitted through the air. Touching animals directly can sometimes transmit brucellosis. 

To avoid transmission of brucellosis, avoid eating raw dairy products, working with animals without a mask, and touching the bodily fluids of animals that are known to be infected.

Humans can contract malaria through the transmission of the Plasmodium parasite. This usually occurs through mosquito bites, mainly by female Anopheles mosquitoes.

You can prevent malaria by taking precautions to avoid mosquito bites. Certain antimalarial tablets can also prevent malaria (but make sure to consult a medical professional before taking them).

What is Bloodborne Pathogens Training?

Bloodborne pathogens training is simply training on how to prevent the transmission of bloodborne pathogens. All kinds of workers need to get bloodborne pathogens training.

A good training course on bloodborne pathogens will cover the following ways to prevent transmission.

The BBP Standard

To prevent the transmission of bloodborne pathogens, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration developed a set of rules known as the bloodborne pathogens (BBP) standard.

The BBP standard involves three different sets of precautions that workers should take in order to prevent the transmission of bloodborne pathogens.

Universal Precautions

Universal precautions (UP) is the principle that a worker should always treat human blood or other potentially infectious material (OPIM) as if it is infected. This rule applies even if the material is probably not infected.

Standard Precautions

Standard precautions (SP) require that workers keep these safety standards in mind when handling blood or OPIM:

  • Wear personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • Wash your hands often
  • Follow standards for safe injection when using needles/syringes
  • Clean and manage drug equipment carefully

Transmission-based Precautions

Transmission-based precautions (TBP) are a series of standards that are only applied when material is known or suspected to be infected.

TBP rules are different based on what kind of pathogen the workers are dealing with.

You can get BBP training online from the Red Cross.

What is Bloodborne Pathogens Certification?

The OSHA offers bloodborne pathogens certification. This is the online training that 29 CFR 1910. 1030 requires. 

This course provides training on how to prevent the transmission of bloodborne pathogens, and then provides official certification. 

The course takes one hour to complete. You can download and print the certification immediately upon completion of the course. 

You can find the OSHA certification course here.

Learn More About Bloodborne Pathogens

If you’re an employee who works around human blood or OPIM, you’re at risk of infection with a bloodborne pathogen.

Fortunately, you can reduce that risk by learning all you can about bloodborne pathogens and how they are transmitted. 

You can start by following the universal and standard precautions. Treat all human blood and OPIM as if it were already infected. Wear proper PPE. Wash your hands often. Keep your instrumentals and materials clean.

If you work in a place with a high risk of transmitting a certain kind of bloodborne pathogen, you should learn the correct transmission-based precautions to take in order to prevent that particular pathogen.

If you are aware of the risks and you take steps to protect yourself, you can prevent the transmission of bloodborne pathogens.

You can find out more information about how bloodborne pathogens enter the body here.