Diseases Caused by Bloodborne Pathogens

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

It's convenient to think that bloodborne pathogens spread only through blood, and that they only cause one disease. But this lesson will teach you that neither is true.

What Are Bloodborne Pathogens?

It shouldn't come as a surprise that people think that bloodborne pathogens are pathogens, or tiny, disease-causing organisms, found in blood. And they're not entirely wrong. However, bloodborne pathogens like viruses and bacteria can be spread via many bodily fluids besides blood. This includes semen, vaginal secretions, and cerebrospinal fluid, the fluid that's found inside your brain and spinal cord.

The scary part of is not just the presence of the pathogen; it's the disease that's caused by that pathogen and/or our body's reaction to it. This lesson will go over some of the many diseases bloodborne pathogens may cause, and what they can do to our bodies.


James was at one point a star quarterback in his high school with a bright future. But he turned to drugs. At first it was 'just for fun,' but before he knew it he was injecting himself with all sorts of illicit substances. What made this even worse is that he shared needles with other drug users. By sharing needles with others, he exposed himself to whatever bloodborne pathogens they had, and eventually he contracted HIV, the human immunodeficiency virus. This is the virus that causes AIDS, acquired immune deficiency syndrome.

HIV is seen here as little green spheres coming out of a much larger white blood cell (a kind of immune system cell)

The long name for AIDS kind of reveals what it does. It causes your immune system to flat line. The immune system is the part of your body responsible for defending you against attack from microorganisms. If a person is not treated for HIV/AIDS, then the flat lining of the immune system exposes that person to all sorts of infections by other organisms.

In fact, viruses and bacteria that at one point never harmed James, or could barely harm him, when he was healthy can now kill him. They are called 'opportunistic pathogens' because they take advantage of the opportunity of a weakened immune system to strike. Unfortunately, the problem with HIV/AIDS doesn't stop there. AIDS can even lead to the development of a specific kind of cancer, called Kaposi's sarcoma.


Hepatitis, the inflammation of the liver, can be caused by a bloodborne pathogen called the Hepatitis B virus. Like HIV/AIDS, hepatitis has many different consequences. Dorothy was infected with hepatitis B when having unprotected sex with her partner. His semen was infected with the virus because he had the disease.

Hepatitis involves more than just the inflammation of the liver, though. Soon after infection, hepatitis can cause nausea, vomiting, dark urine, joint pain, fever, fatigue, a loss of appetite, and a yellow discoloration to the skin and eyes called jaundice.

In the long run, hepatitis can result in serious problems. The two most serious are liver cancer and cirrhosis, which refers to the scarring of the liver. It makes the liver very dysfunctional and, like liver cancer, can definitely end up killing a person.

Like Hepatitis B, the Hepatitis C virus can spread in much the same way and cause the same problems.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use Study.com

Become a Study.com member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about Study.com
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? Study.com has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account