Universal Precautions in Infection Control: Definition & Guidelines

Instructor: Courtney Dohse
In this lesson we will learn the definition of Universal Precautions, see how it relates to infection control, and examine its implications in the workplace.

Case Study

Angie is a nursing student in her final year of nursing school and is completing her clinical rotation on the Labor and Delivery Unit at a local hospital. She has been asked to start an intravenous line (I.V.) on a patient who is in labor. She begins to palpate the patient's veins before starting the I.V. and her instructor suggests that she tear off the index finger of her glove to get a better feel of the patient's veins. Angie does not think that this patient has any transferable diseases so she tears the finger off her glove, palpates the vein, and places the I.V.


Universal Precautions refers to the practice of wearing appropriate, non-porous medical articles such as gloves, goggles, gowns or face shields to prevent the exposure to potential blood-borne pathogens. These precautions have been labeled 'Universal' because they are precautions that healthcare providers should be taking with every patient, every time.

Blood-borne pathogens such as Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, and HIV are all infections that can be transferred from person to person through body fluids. Since healthcare providers are unable to know whether a patient is infected without going through testing, each person should be assumed to be potentially infected and precautions should be taken.

In our case study, Angie has not taken the proper precautions to protect herself from being potentially infected by a blood-born pathogen. Even though she is wearing gloves, tearing and altering the gloves in any way is NOT an appropriate way to protect herself. When starting an I.V., or using any kind of needle, there is a possibility of exposure to blood. Any small open cuts on Angie's fingers are a gateway for blood-borne pathogens in the event that she is exposed to an infected patient's blood. There is also the possibility of a needle stick with a contaminated needle. In order to best protect herself, Angie should be wearing non-porous medical gloves that are completely intact while doing procedures that may expose her to a patient's bodily fluid. Even though this particular patient is not known to have any communicable diseases, there is no guarantee of this, so Angie should be treating her and all patients as potentially infected.

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