Bloodborne Pathogens Transmission

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

It turns out that bloodborne pathogens can be transmitted through many ways other than blood. If you wish to find out these other modes of transmission, then read this lesson!

Pathogens and Blood

In every community in the world, there are good members and not-so-good members. You are probably thinking regular citizens (good) and criminals (not so good). However, we are part of a diverse community that involves all sorts of living species, not just humans. Some of these species are not so great, including pathogens, or disease-causing agents, such as viruses and bacteria, which can cause serious diseases and even kill. When they are found in and/or spread via blood, they are called bloodborne pathogens. But don't let the name fool you--these little nasties aren't spread solely via blood. This lesson teaches you the ways by which bloodborne pathogens can be transmitted.

Transmission Via Blood

Let's get the most obvious method of transmission out of the way first--like the name suggests, bloodborne pathogens often travel in the blood. Here's how it works. First, blood contaminated by a pathogen has to gain entry into your body. Sometimes, this is an active process, as when a drug user shares needles with a partner. If the person has HIV, as soon as he sticks that needle into his body, it is contaminated with his HIV-positive blood. When the other person sticks the needle in and injects the drug, they also inject the bloodborne pathogen (HIV).

This image shows HIV (the little green spheres) budding from a white blood cell (the blue cell).

However, this kind of bloodborne contamination isn't always active; it can also be accidental or passive. For example, a first responder may enter a scene where there is a lot of blood. They may not notice they have a tiny cut somewhere on their exposed skin. In the course of tending to someone in need, some blood may accidentally enter that cut and thus contaminate the first responder's blood with whatever bloodborne pathogen the other person may have.

Thus, bloodborne pathogens can enter through any place that skin is broken, such as a cut, sore, blister, or even acne. Likewise, pathogens can enter through the mucous membranes of the eyes, nose, and mouth, so if someone gets blood or another bodily fluid on their hand and then rubs their eyes, they could be infected in that way.

Transmission Via Other Bodily Fluids

Bloodborne pathogens may also be transmitted via bodily fluids other than blood, including:

  • Saliva
  • Synovial fluid (the fluid that lubricates your joints)
  • Pleural fluid (the fluid that ensures your lungs don't rub themselves raw as they inflate and deflate within the chest)
  • Cerebrospinal fluid (a kind of liquid that bathes the brain and spinal cord and helps cushion the brain in case of trauma to the head)
  • Amniotic fluid (the fluid surrounding a developing baby)
  • Peritoneal fluid (fluid found in the abdominal cavity)
  • Vaginal secretions
  • Semen

It's a long list, but there are other bodily fluids that do not transmit bloodborne pathogens, including urine, feces, vomit, sweat, tears, nasal secretions, and sputum (the stuff you hack up from your lungs).

However, you need to remember something: Even if a body fluid, such as sweat, is not a known transmitter of bloodborne pathogens, any bodily fluid contaminated with blood may help transmit that bloodborne pathogen. That's why saliva is on the danger list--technically, it doesn't transmit bloodborne pathogens on its own, but it is classified as a potential transmitter of such pathogens during dental procedures. These procedures may introduce blood into the mouth and thus contaminate the saliva.

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