What are Bloodborne Pathogens?

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

This lesson will define bloodborne pathogens, give you some examples of ones you've likely already heard about, and describe how people are commonly infected.

The Vasculature

Inside of your body is a massive highway system. It doesn't carry cars, it has no asphalt, and it contains no lane markers. But it does help traffic flow from one place to another. That highway system is called your vasculature, and it's the place where your blood--a collection of red blood cells, white blood cells, and other molecules--flows from one place to another.

Like a real highway, the blood can carry criminals. In our body, those criminals are called pathogens, or disease-causing agents. Let's learn about how they pertain to the blood.

What Are Bloodborne Pathogens?

As the name suggests, bloodborne pathogens are infectious agents of disease found in human blood. It's as simple as that. This term also implies that such agents are spread via contact with contaminated blood or, in some cases, other bodily fluids.

This might all sound a little like science fiction, but you've almost certainly heard of several bloodborne pathogens, including HIV, the human immunodeficiency virus responsible for causing AIDS, or acquired immune deficiency syndrome. Other bloodborne pathogens include hepatitis B and hepatitis C, two viruses that can damage your liver. Besides viruses, protozoa and bacteria are other types of well-known microorganisms that can cause bloodborne disease.

The little green spheres of HIV visualized thanks to a scanning electron microscope

Who's at Risk?

Bloodborne pathogens are nothing to sneeze at, so it's important that you know who is at risk of coming into contact with such terrible infectious agents. First, hopefully you don't do drugs, especially drugs that are injected into the body. The use of contaminated needles, which can be tainted with blood or other bodily fluids, is a big risk factor for the transmission of bloodborne pathogens.

Of course, you don't have to be a drug user to come into contact with needles. Hospital staff, including doctors and nurses, use needles for important medical reasons. However, they are still at risk of contracting a bloodborne pathogen if they do not handle themselves, their patients, and their equipment in an appropriate manner. The same goes for first responders such as EMTs who may be called to a scene, such as a car accident, where there is a lot of blood and bodily fluids. A needle stick is not the only way to contract a bloodborne pathogen; these pathogens can make it into our body through sometimes invisible cuts and scrapes found on our skin or mouth, making it even more crucial for anyone who has contact with needles, blood, or bodily fluids to take appropriate precautions to stay healthy.

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