Other Potentially Infectious Material (OPIM): Definition & Transmission

Instructor: Danielle Haak

Danielle has a PhD in Natural Resource Sciences and a MSc in Biological Sciences

Potentially infectious materials (PIMs) are bodily fluids that can spread infection from one person to another through direct contact. This lesson will cover which fluids might contain bloodborne pathogens and how they are transmitted between people.

Bloodborne Pathogens

During nursing school, Alex learned about some of the risks she would be facing during her normal daily activities as a nurse. One of the main risks was that of accidental infection by pathogens. Pathogens are infectious microorganisms that can get into the body and wreak havoc, and include bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites.

One way pathogens can be spread is via bloodborne transmission, meaning the pathogens are present in the blood and can be transmitted from one person to another through direct contact with contaminated blood. There are three main bloodborne infections Alex is at risk for when working with patients: hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

Because of the way bloodborne pathogens are transmitted, blood should always be considered a potentially infectious material (PIM). However, blood isn't the only bodily fluid that can transmit bloodborne pathogens. What are the others? That's a great question, so let's take a look.

Other Potentially Infectious Materials (OPIMs)

Here is a list of bodily fluids that should always be considered as potential PIMs.

  • Semen
  • Vaginal secretions
  • Fluid from the spinal column and brain
  • Fluid found in joints (the places where two bones come together)
  • Pleural fluid, found in tissues around the lungs
  • Pericardial fluid, found in tissues around the heart
  • Peritoneal fluid, found in the abdomen
  • Amniotic fluid, found around developing fetuses
  • Saliva, particularly during dental procedures where blood or broken skin is present
  • Any bodily fluid that has been contaminated with blood
  • Any unfixed tissue or organ from humans or other primates
  • Any cells or cultures contaminated with HIV
  • Human cell cultures used for research purposes
  • Any pathogenic microorganism

Obviously, this list is pretty long, and most people don't come into regular contact with many of these bodily fluids. People in the health industry, like Alex, are at a higher risk of direct contact with contaminated PIMs, putting them at risk of infection.

Unless visibly contaminated with blood, other bodily fluids, such as urine, feces, vomit, tears, sweat, sputum, and nasal secretions are not considered to be other potentially infectious materials of bloodborne pathogens.

Transmission

So how does someone become infected with a bloodborne pathogen? There are a few relatively common modes of transmission.

Pathogens can be transmitted by accidental skin punctures with contaminated needles.
skin puncture

  • A skin puncture with a contaminated sharp like a needle. This could be accidental, as in a nurse slipping and pricking themselves, or partially intentional, like when drug users share dirty needles.
  • Direct contact of contaminated fluid with the eyes, nose, or mouth. These surfaces have mucous membranes, giving pathogens an entrance to the body. To prevent this contact, many healthcare workers wear personal protective equipment (PPE) like gloves, masks, eye wear, and gowns.
  • Direct contact of contaminated fluid with a wound or broken skin. When intact, the skin is the body's primary defense against pathogens, but when there's a cut or any type of opening, pathogens can get in and cause an infection.
  • Bites that break the skin and come into contact with blood.
  • Sexual contact can spread bloodborne infections between people.
  • Mother-to-fetus transmission during pregnancy and birth.

In addition to using PPE, what else can someone do to prevent being exposed to bloodborne pathogens? Well, most workplace scenarios where someone can accidentally be exposed are regulated by standard operating procedures. These procedures consider general workflow practices and workplace environment. They outline the safest way and place to perform each procedure to minimize the risk of accidental exposure. Additional precautions (for non-healthcare workers) can involve avoiding sexual contact with an infected person and taking extreme caution whenever skin is broken. Keep wounds covered and clean, and always be mindful around bodily fluids that may transmit bloodborne pathogens.

Accidental Exposure

What does someone do if they think they've accidentally been exposed to a bloodborne pathogen through blood or other potentially infectious materials? Well, a first line of defense is to get hepatitis B vaccinations, especially if you frequently come into contact with potentially infectious materials.

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