Handling Bloodborne Pathogen Exposures

Bloodborne pathogen (BBP) occupational healthcare exposures happen daily, and until it happens to you personally, a peer, or your friend, you may not realize how often it occurs. We know you just clicked through your online Bloodborne Pathogen online competency course (don’t worry, we’ve got you covered), and we are here to help spread awareness and preparedness. However, bloodborne pathogen exposures are a major issue, and you could be potentially exposed to Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), Hepatitis B Virus, and Hepatitis C Virus.

It Can Happen to Anyone

Regardless of how careful you may be, unpredictable circumstances and situations can happen. Take this plausible scenario: You are caring for a kind but disoriented patient after inserting their IV, and the patient accidentally moved when you are activating the safety device on the needle. The contaminated needle sticks your left thumb, and now you aren’t sure what to do.

Immediately remove your gloves, adequately wash your injured area with soap and water, and ensure the contaminated needle has been placed in the sharps container. Do not reuse the now contaminated needle. Next, you follow your organization’s policy and procedure regarding exposures. Many times this means notifying your supervisor and making a trip to your Employee Health clinic. Depending on your patient’s HIV, Hep B, or Hep C status, further follow-up for several months may be discussed, and HIV or Hep B prophylaxis medication may be offered, if needed.

Reduce Exposure Risks

Bloodborne pathogen exposures can include a cut, scratch, bite, puncture, splash to eyes, etc. The different types of exposures have policies that can slightly vary (like a splash to the eyes). Be sure to educate yourself on your organization’s instructions before an exposure occurs.

What can you do to further protect yourself and minimize exposure risk? Before starting as a student in the healthcare field (yes, students are exposed too) or becoming a healthcare professional, ensure that you have had your required Hepatitis B vaccines. Also, verify that you are immune to Hepatitis B by having your blood drawn. Make sure your levels checked (a.k.a titers) and confirm that your Tetanus vaccine is up-to-date. While it should be obvious, always follow standard precautions with personal protective equipment (i.e., gloves), unless additional precautions are specified by provider’s orders.

Keep your Vaccine Info Accessible

Can’t remember when you got your last Tetanus shot? Questioning if you have completed your Hepatitis B vaccine series? Info like this is critical to have on hand when faced with a BBP situation. Guessing on dates isn’t an option.

More and more nurses and healthcare professionals are turning to technology to help them manage these mundane, but important personal records. Kamana is one such solution making this process easy. Because you can upload and store all your vaccine records in your personal digital profile, sharing them quickly with staff who are working your case in the Employee Health clinic is fast. There’s no time to mess around when bloodborne pathogen exposures happen. Vaccine documentation stored in a secure and centralized profile saves everyone time, and most importantly, helps you stay prepared for if or when an accident may happen.

Special thanks to Melea Hodge, BSN, RN for contributing to this article.
Melea Hodge is an Employee Health nurse at a large healthcare organization. Melea has been a nurse for almost 5 years, and has several years of experience in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. She will complete her Nursing Informatics MSN degree in August 2021. She enjoys staying active, taking family walks with her husband and her puppy, and spending time with friends