Imagine, if you will, 50 years in the future when a big-shot producer creates a movie about the year 2020. In a scramble to control the spread of a deadly virus, COVID-19, the public gets a heavy lesson in how to protect themselves, and how to prevent unintentionally spreading disease.

Such a scenario might seem unrealistic if we hadn’t lived it ourselves.

It’s easy to believe that these rapid measures of learning how to protect ourselves are unusual and unprecedented. However, previous events highlighted the need for bloodborne pathogen training.

The Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) epidemic and an increase in understanding of how human secretions spread disease previously prompted health officials to develop educational programs on transmission prevention.

Bloodborne pathogens pose an especially significant threat to people who might find themselves in contact with the blood and secretions of another person. Let’s take a look at why education is so important to prevent the spread of bloodborne diseases.

Disease Spread and Critical Employees

COVID-19 is certainly not the first instance of a virus sweeping through a population at an alarming rate. Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) also swept through the world, and outbreaks of the Ebola Virus have devastated pockets of populations in Africa.

The severity of these illnesses varies and changes over time. In 1981, an HIV diagnosis was a death sentence. In 2021, an HIV patient can live to a typical life expectancy when provided with adequate healthcare.

Regardless, we must protect our essential workers from contracting these diseases while on the job. As we saw with COVID-19, when our nurses and doctors fall ill, they cannot care for patients. A significant shortage of our critical employees spells disaster for the population at large.

Preventing the spread of disease can help avoid such a scenario.

The focus with COVID-19 has been reducing airborne transmission, as it is a respiratory disease. HIV, Ebola, and Hepatitis are examples of pathogens that are spread through contact with blood and bodily fluid. As these diseases are older, there has been more time to develop effective bloodborne pathogen training.

You can imagine how the risk of exposure to these pathogens increases among certain types of workers, such as first responders. An EMT responding to a drug overdose will face a significant chance that their patient may have a bloodborne disease.

The Benefit of Bloodborne Pathogen Training

Perhaps you are wondering, “what is bloodborne pathogens training?” This type of training focuses on preventing exposure to diseases transmitted by bodily fluids. For people who have a significant chance of coming into contact with blood, such as clinical healthcare workers, knowing how to reduce the chances of pathogen exposure is critical.

If a person comes into contact with the blood of a source individual, such as a patient with HIV, they run the risk of contracting the disease as well.  Successful training keeps viruses from spreading and infecting more people. 

Bloodborne pathogens training seeks to reduce as much exposure as possible through training individuals on proper disposal, personal protective equipment, and more.

Proper training can eliminate a lack of awareness, and give workers the proper tools to prevent injury. A training course empowers employees to recognize hazards, and implement Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA) standards to prevent injury.

Training will also help an employee understand what should be done if he or she is injured or exposed to a bloodborne pathogen. Quick action can prevent serious illness.

So, what is bloodborne pathogens certification? Upon completion of a training course, you will receive a certification, showing that you have learned about the proper way to handle bloodborne pathogens.

Ultimately, an employer has both a legal and ethical responsibility to protect workers. 

Why It Matters

In addition to the ways that these diseases are transmitted by the population at large, there are special circumstances that apply to workers. These include accidents, lack of awareness, and lack of proper disposal.

For example, a nurse may give an injection to an infected individual, and accidentally stick herself with that same needle when attempting to dispose of it. A lab worker may break a glass slide with a specimen from an infected person, cutting himself in the process.

A first responder may touch an open wound on an infected individual and then wipe sweat from his eye, accidentally getting fluid from the infected individual in his mucous membrane. An infected animal may bite a veterinarian.

Due to improper oversight of disposal, up to 25% of injuries from sharps occur in workers handling medical waste, such as custodial staff and laundry workers.

When employees become infected with any pathogen on the job, they bring those illnesses home and risk infecting their families and friends. Because people tend to relax at home, precautions may not enter their thoughts when tending to a small scratch or cut on a child or friend. The virus has more opportunities to infect more people.

Preventing infection at the workplace is a critical piece in preventing the spread of disease.

When employees receive proper training, they will be aware of actions they can take to minimize their risk of being exposed to pathogens that may be in blood or fluids. Education also gives employees the tools they need to protect others, such as ensuring proper disposal of sharps.

If the most recent COVID-19 global pandemic taught us anything, it is that all of our healthcare workers are vital, from the anesthesiologist to the janitor working the third shift. We need to do everything we can to protect them, and bloodborne pathogen training is one way to do this.

Who Should Receive Training

Any individual who has a significant risk of encountering blood, bodily fluid, or contaminated needles should receive bloodborne pathogen training. This includes, but is not limited to, healthcare workers and first responders.

First responders need to be trained and first aid training should include information about bloodborne pathogens. Police officers, emergency medical technicians (EMTs), and firefighters all run a risk of coming in contact with human blood during an emergency.

For example, an EMT responding to a car accident knows that the people needing treatment will likely have sustained trauma resulting in open wounds. This EMT has no idea if the victims have a disease that could spread through blood. What should the EMT do to prevent exposure?

There are multiple ways that EMTs could protect themselves in this scenario. Such a scenario demonstrates why first responder training should include education on preventing pathogen exposure.

Even a lay citizen trying to help a stranger should be made aware of how to prevent exposure to pathogens. Any person could find themselves needing to help someone who has an injury until first responders arrive. For this reason, it is important that first-aid training also includes information on how to protect oneself. 

The actions taken by the public during the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted that disease prevention is all of our responsibilities. In an age where the public is highly aware of the need to mitigate the spread of illness, we have an excellent opportunity to drive home the importance of understanding how to protect yourself, and others, from bloodborne pathogens.

Exposure Prevention

Fortunately, a little education and proper planning go a long way in preventing the transmission of bloodborne diseases.

If you live with an illness spread through fluids, take reasonable precautions to ensure others don’t contract the disease. In the same way that wearing a mask helps prevent you from infecting others with a respiratory illness, properly disposing of needles, bloody bandages, and other contaminated items can prevent others from contracting your virus.

You can protect yourself by learning to use medical supplies properly and employing appropriate hand washing techniques. Bloodborne pathogen training can also help you learn about universal precautions, and how to properly use and dispose of personal protective equipment.

For example, wearing gloves when assisting a patient with wound care provides a barrier through which a virus cannot pass. The caregiver removes the gloves using proper sanitation techniques and immediately disposes of them. Even if the patient is infected with a virus such as HIV, the caregiver will not be exposed.

Disposing of needles in appropriate sharps containers protects downstream workers from accidental exposure.

Receiving appropriate vaccinations, such as the Hep B vaccination, can help protect you if you are exposed. Covering any cuts or sores you have is one simple preventative method of preventing the transmission of bloodborne pathogens.

With these methods and others that you will learn in bloodborne pathogen training, we can protect ourselves while still giving patients compassionate and proper care.