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What are Bloodborne Pathogens?


Your local urgent care center can perform several procedures that involve needles and other sharp, invasive objects (for example, scalpels).

Most patients will never be exposed to the amount of exposed needles as healthcare workers. However, it is important for them to understand the same Universal Precautions that nurses, doctors, and other medical professionals take when they handle contaminated needs.

Universal Precaution is the term that the medical field uses to describe the precautions taken with every patient, regardless of their medical status, to protect themselves from blood borne pathogens such as HIV and Hepatitis.

At home, patients can be exposed to blood borne pathogens if they:

  • Have a diabetic family member who regularly tests their blood sugar or gives themselves insulin shots.
  • Share shaving razors.
  • Change the trash and are stuck by unprotected needles.

It is important for patients and healthcare workers alike to protect themselves with proper personal protective equipment if their risk of exposure is high.

Reducing exposure in a home where needles are present

In some homes where a family member has to administer regular blood tests or injections (like Lovenox™, Sandostatin™, or insulin), exposure to possible needlesticks is higher. In fact, the FDA says that “There are 9 million Americans who use needles and other sharps that must be disposed of outside of healthcare settings every year” (FDA.gov, 2014).

Family members can all pitch in to ensure the safety of the househole by placing all used needles in proper disposal containers. The CDC has approved plastic milk cartons, heavy-duty plastic laundry-detergent containers, and coffee tins as approved disposal containers for sharps. Medical facilities may also give the patient a red sharps container.

Never dispose of sharps in plastic bags or trashcans. This can endanger public workers and family members who change the tash liner.

If You are Exposed to a Needle-Stick

The most common way to be exposed to blood borne pathogens is to be accidentally stuck by a needle. Often, you do not know if the needle is contaminated, and the CDC states that you should implement the following steps:

  1. Immediately wash the site with soap and water.
  2. If the blood splattered and reached contact with other parts of your body, flush them as well.
  3. Seek immediate medical treatment, even at your local urgent care center.

Your medical facility will evaluate your risk for blood borne diseases such as Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, and HIV/AIDS with a blood test. They will also give you instructions for surveillance, and attempt to contact anyone you suspect may have also used the needle to test them for pathogens as well.


CDC.gov. (2013). Bloodborne Infectious Diseases: HIV/AIDS, Hepatits B, Hepatitis C: Emergency Needlestick Information. Retrieved on March 4, 2014 from http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/bbp/emergnedl.html.

FDA.gov. (2014). Needles and Other Sharps (Safe Disposal Outside of Health Care Settings). Retrieved on March 4, 2014 from http://www.fda.gov/MedicalDevices/ProductsandMedicalProcedures/HomeHealthandConsumer/ConsumerProducts/Sharps/ucm20025647.htm.

-Carolyn A. Medrano, 2014


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