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Blood-borne viruses

Blood-borne viruses (BBV) include Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and HIV. In an infected person, the virus lives in the blood and very often the person is unaware that they have been infected as they may not develop signs and symptoms for many years.

Significant exposure and risk of becoming infected is classed as any activity in which any of the blood-borne viruses can be transmitted; for example, where blood contaminated with the virus is in contact with non-intact skin or eyes. The virus cannot pass through intact skin.

In some instances when it is strongly suspected or known that infected blood has been introduced to an individual, for example, through a needle-stick injury, preventative treatment (also known as post-exposure prophylaxis) can be offered. The timing of this is crucial and should be administered as soon after the event as possible if appropriate.

It is important to note that the blood-borne viruses are not spread by normal social contact. Daily living activities such as coughing, sneezing, hugging, holding hands or sharing cutlery or crockery do not pose any risk.

Management of blood exposure incidents (sharps injuries)

This advice does not supercede or replace any workplace policies, which should be followed as a matter of course.

The risk following a needle-stick or other sharps injury from a person known to be infected with one or more blood-borne viruses:

  • HIV infection is 0.3% (one in 300 chance)
  • Hepatitis C is 3% (one in 30 chance)
  • Hepatitis B is 30% (one in 3 chance).
  • The risk of acquiring HIV from a mucous membrane exposure, e.g., mouth or eyes, is less than 0.1%.
  1. The injured area should be encouraged to bleed - do not suck the wound.
  2. Wash under running water. In cases of splashes to eyes, ears or mouth, the area should be rinsed well with water.
  3. Wipe injury dry.
  4. Cover the injury with a waterproof plaster if available.
  5. Record the details.
  6. Seek medical help within one hour of the injury (if post-exposure prophylaxis is recommended, it is more effective if started as soon after the event as possible).

If the blood-borne virus status of the source of the needle-stick/sharps injury is unknown, complete the steps as above.

Usually Occupational Health and Safety Services, or in case of out of hours or in the absence of such a service, the Accident and Emergency Department at Noble’s Hospital provide the initial risk assessment and will consider if post-exposure prophylactic treatment is required. The risk assessment is aided by the following information:

  • type of body fluid involved
  • likelihood that the source person has a blood-borne infection
  • severity and location of the injury
  • type of sharp which caused the injury - more risk with a wide bore needle with fresh blood from the source person in the needle (An injury caused by an unused needle poses no risk of infection).

For further advice and information contact Public Health on +44 1624 642657 or +44 1624 642688.

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