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Blood and Body Fluid Precautions


Topic Overview

What are blood and body fluid precautions?

Blood and body fluid precautions are recommendations designed to prevent the transmission of HIV, hepatitis B virus (HBV), hepatitis C virus (HCV), and other diseases while administering first aid or other health care that includes contact with body fluids or blood. These precautions treat all blood and body fluids as potentially infectious for diseases that are transmitted in the blood. The organisms spreading these diseases are called blood-borne pathogens.

Blood and body fluid precautions apply to blood and other body fluids that contain visible traces of blood, semen, and vaginal fluids. They also apply to tissues and other body fluids, such as from around the brain or spinal cord (cerebrospinal fluid), around a joint space (synovial fluid), in the lungs (pleural fluid), in the lining of the abdomen and pelvis (peritoneal fluid), around the heart (pericardial fluid), and amniotic fluid that surrounds a fetus.

Why are blood and body fluid precautions important?

Although skin provides some protection from exposure to potentially infectious substances, it is strongly recommended that health professionals use blood and body fluid precautions for further protection when they are providing health care. These precautions also help protect you from exposure to a potential infection from your health professional in the unlikely event that you come in contact with the health professional's blood.

The American Red Cross recommends that everyone use blood and body fluid precautions when giving first aid.

Are blood and body fluid precautions always needed?

Although it is recommended that you use blood and body fluid precautions whenever you know you may come into contact with nasal secretions, breast milk, stool, sputum, sweat, tears, urine, or vomit, the precautions are not absolutely necessary unless these fluids contain visible traces of blood. Blood and body fluid precautions apply to saliva only when it contains blood or in a dental or oral surgery setting where contamination with blood is likely.

The best practice is to always use blood and body fluid precautions, even when there are no visible traces of blood and no chance of contamination with blood.

How can you reduce your risk of exposure to blood and body fluids?

Blood and body fluid precautions involve the use of protective barriers such as gloves, gowns, masks, and eye protection. These reduce the risk of exposing the skin or mucous membranes to potentially infectious fluids. Health care workers should always use protective barriers to protect themselves from exposure to another person's blood or body fluids.

  • Gloves protect you whenever you touch blood; body fluids; mucous membranes; or broken, burned, or scraped skin. The use of gloves also decreases the risk of disease transmission if you are pricked with a needle.
    • Always wear gloves for handling items or surfaces soiled with blood or body fluids.
    • Wear gloves if you have scraped, cut, or chapped skin on your hands.
    • Change your gloves after each use.
    • Wash your hands immediately after removing your gloves.
    • Wash your hands and other skin surfaces immediately after they come in contact with blood or body fluids.
  • Masks and protective eyewear, such as goggles or a face shield, help protect your eyes, mouth, and nose from droplets of blood and other body fluids. Always wear a mask and protective eyewear if you are doing a procedure that may expose you to splashes or sprays of blood or body fluids.
  • Gowns or aprons protect you from splashes of blood or body fluids. Always wear a gown or apron if you are doing a procedure that may expose you to splashes or sprays of blood or body fluids.

How else can I reduce my risk?

The American Red Cross recommends that everyone use blood and body fluid precautions while giving first aid. You may wish to have gloves available in your home, office, or vehicle if you think you may be required to help another person in an emergency.

Other precautions can help you minimize your risk of exposure to contaminated blood and body fluids.

  • If you give injections to a family member or to yourself:
    • Use puncture-resistant containers to dispose of needles, scalpels, and other sharp instruments.
    • Do not recap needles.
    • Do not bend or handle used needles or disposable syringes.
  • Have a disposable face shield or pocket mask available if you think you might be required to perform mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, which is part of CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation).
  • Avoid touching objects that may be contaminated.

What should I do if I am exposed?

  • Wash your hands immediately after any exposure to blood or body fluids, even if you wear gloves.
  • If you get splashed in the eyes, nose, or mouth, flush with water.
  • If you are pricked by a needle (needlestick), contact your doctor right away for further advice.
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