How to Protect Yourself From Bloodborne Pathogens

Picture: Hush Naidoo Jade Photography 

Bloodborne pathogens (BBP) are viruses or bacteria present in blood and bodily fluids that can cause diseases such as AIDS-causing HIV and HBV. While sexual transmission and IV drug use are the most common ways to spread bloodborne pathogens, they can also be spread through blood and bodily fluids, putting people at risk of infection. 

Knowing how to keep yourself safe can be paramount if you work in any job with an exposure risk, such as a nurse, doctor, dentist, EMT, tattoo artist, or lab worker. The following information may help you and those around you remain safe in the presence of potential BBPs. 

Undergo Training

Undertaking BBP training can be one of the first steps to protecting yourself in an environment where there may be a risk of bloodborne pathogens. Once you understand the risks associated with them, you can take all practical steps to keep yourself safe. 

BBP training allows you to learn about what bloodborne pathogens are, transmission and prevention methods, the precautions you can take, and OSHA’s Standard. Training courses also allow you to learn how to use personal protective equipment (PPE) and what to do if you or someone else has been exposed to blood, a potential BBP, or other potentially infectious materials (OPIM). 

Wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

We’ve all come to learn the importance of PPE to control the spread of viruses, and it makes sense that it will also prove helpful in protecting against BBPs. In any situation where you’re dealing with bodily fluids like blood, wear appropriate PPE based on the risks presented. 

At a minimum, gloves should always be worn, but you may also need to wear face shields, gowns, pocket masks, and eye protection. Face shields and eye protection prevent blood from being able to enter your body through your eyes, nose, or mouth, while a pocket mask offers a layer of protection while performing mouth-to-mouth or CPR. Gowns and gloves prevent your hands and skin from coming into contact with blood and potential BBP. 

Adjust Your Attitude

When someone presents to you with an illness or injury in your line of business, such as in the medical field, your first thought might be to immediately help in any way you can. However, with a genuine risk of BBP, a slight attitude adjustment can be crucial for safety. 

Instead of starting treatment right away, treat everyone as if they are high-risk. This means that you would wear the appropriate PPE, such as gloves, and follow decontamination practices once the patient has been treated. 

Prioritize Housekeeping

Housekeeping relating to BBPs is about ensuring all surfaces are cleaned and decontaminated, and all bodily fluids and blood are disposed of safely. Always dispose of trash as if it contains infectious or sharp items, and turn contaminated clothing inside out to contain any contaminants. 

All contaminated and potentially infectious items should also be placed in color-coded bags with biohazard labels. However, procedures for what these bags or containers are and where they go may differ from one industry or business to the next. 

What to Do If You’re Exposed to Bloodborne Pathogens


While BBP training and health and safety measures can prevent most risks associated with blood and body fluids, exposure can still happen, especially during emergencies. If you’re exposed to potential BBP through your eyes, mouth, nose, skin, or infectious materials, there are steps you can take to look after yourself. 

Step 1: Clean the Exposure Area

Clean the area of your body exposed to a potential BBP by flushing it out with warm water before washing it with soap and water. Scrub the entire area to remove contaminants from your skin. 

Step 2: Wash Wounds

If your exposure event involves a cut or wound, make it bleed by squeezing it gently before washing the wound with soap and water. 

Step 3: Notify Your Superior

After you have acted quickly to clean the exposure site and wash any wounds, notify your superior, such as a supervisor. They can advise you of the Exposure Incident protocols in place. 

Step 4: Seek Treatment

An exposure event should be treated seriously, which means you will need to seek emergency treatment. Once treated, a doctor can counsel you on the risks of HIV and the Hepatitis B virus. They may provide follow-up treatment, and there will be a post-exposure evaluation. Most, if not all, people exposed to BBP will be offered HBV vaccines. However, there is no available vaccine for HIV. 

There may be no way to completely eradicate the risk of bloodborne pathogen exposure, but there are certainly ways to reduce the risk. Undergo training, treat every situation as if it’s high-risk, and follow your in-house procedures.