Universal Precautions for Bloodborne Pathogens

Instructor: Kristin Lundsten

Kristin has taught pediatric and psychiatric nursing and has a master's degree in nuring education

This lesson will define two important concepts in healthcare; universal precautions and blood-borne-pathogens. An explanation on the use of universal precautions will be provided as well as how to apply them.

A Common Precaution

Have you ever been in a hospital or other medical setting? Did you ever wonder why the medical professionals wear gloves when performing a medical procedure or exam? Or maybe it's so commonplace to see healthcare professionals wearing gloves, you'd only notice if they weren't wearing them? If you answered 'Yes' to any of the above questions, you are already on your way to understanding the concept of universal precautions.

Gloves are a common precaution in healthcare

What Is a Universal Precaution?

In this context, 'universal' means EVERYONE (yes, you too). Precautions are measures taken in advance to prevent something dangerous or unpleasant. When used together, the phrase universal precaution is the practice of protecting yourself from accidental transmission or exposure of blood-borne pathogens by viewing every person as if they were already infected. In other words, preventative actions taken by everyone to prevent something dangerous.

Blood-borne pathogens is an umbrella term to reference any infection that can be spread through the blood. For example, if a person has an infection that lives in the blood, another person could potentially catch that infection if an opening in their skin or other membranes (lips, mouth, eyes) comes into contact with the blood or fluids (saliva, mucus, semen, etc) from the infected person. Some more commonly known examples of blood-borne infections are human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), hepatitis B, and hepatitis C, malaria, and herpes.

Why Use Universal Precautions?

Pathogens like viruses and bacteria are really, really tiny. In fact, the human eye cannot see them unless looking through a very strong microscope. This makes it particularly difficult to know who has or does not have a blood-borne pathogen. Sometimes, even the people infected with blood-borne pathogens don't know they have them. You can't know just by looking!

Universal precautions should be observed whenever there is the potential to come into contact with blood or body fluids. Typically, in healthcare settings, it is common to see doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals wearing gloves when examining a patient. This is done so that potential blood-borne pathogens are not transmitted.


Gloves, eye goggles, a gown, or a mask are items known as personal protective equipment or PPE, which are used whenever there is a potential for the exchange of blood-borne pathogens. Some common procedures are drawing blood, giving a vaccine, surgery, treating a wound, obtaining urine samples, or routine examinations.

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