Why Hepatitis C is a Significant Bloodborne Pathogen Concern
Tuesday, June 11th, 2019
Singer Naomi Judd contracted Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) from a needle stick while working as a nurse, actor Ken Wantabe contracted it after blood transfusions while undergoing treatment for leukemia in the 80’s, Pamela Anderson contracted it from sharing tattoo needles with her then husband rocker Tommy Lee; while others have contracted it from past drug use including Natalie Cole, Stephen Tyler, David Crosby, Gregg Allman, Lou Reed, and Christopher Kennedy Lawford.
HCV is a bloodborne pathogen. According to recent statistics from the Center of Disease Control, 2.4 million Americans are living with it and half may not know they are living with it! On top of that, with the current opioid crisis new hepatitis C infections have tripled.
While there are new medications on the market to cure Hepatitis C, millions have not taken advantage of these treatment options. Expanded testing, treatment, and prevention services are urgently needed, especially due to the increase of new infections linked to the opioid crisis. Prevention has never been more important.
People with newly acquired HCV infection usually are asymptomatic or have mild symptoms that may go unrecognized so many don’t seek help. When symptoms do occur, they can include:
- Dark urine
- Clay-colored stool
- Abdominal pain
- Loss of appetite
- Joint pain
From the CDC, “Most people with chronic hepatitis C infection are asymptomatic or have non-specific symptoms such as chronic fatigue and depression. Many eventually develop chronic liver disease, which can range from mild to severe, including cirrhosis and liver cancer. Chronic liver disease in HCV-infected people is usually insidious, progressing slowly without any signs or symptoms for several decades. In fact, HCV infection is often not recognized until asymptomatic people are identified as HCV-positive when screened for blood donation or when elevated alanine aminotransferase (ALT, a liver enzyme) levels are detected during routine examinations.”
Here are strategies to reduce bloodborne pathogen exposure in the workplace:
- Develop or review your bloodborne pathogen plan for completeness.
- Provide adequate training to identify high risk staff (first responders, nurses, maintenance, custodians, etc.)
- Understand what a potential exposure is and seek treatment immediately from your medical provider.
- Practice universal precautions at all times, (meaning if you see blood or other body fluids, assume bloodborne pathogens are present.)
- Have proper PPE on hand along with required disinfectant supplies.
- Realize some pathogens live outside of the body (Hepatitis B can linger for up to a week.)
- Never pick up needles, even with a gloved hand. Use tongs instead.
- Have rigid containers available for needle and other sharp object storage, particularly for mobile staff working in public areas known to have needles.
At the end of the day, we all need to see blood and bloodborne pathogens as the risk they represent to our health and quality of life, and diligently practice safe work habits around blood and body fluids.