Blood Exposure to Hepatitis C: Handling Blood Spills
What do I do if I see or become exposed to someone else’s blood?
Hepatitis C is transmitted when virus positive blood is exposed to another person and enters their bloodstream. When you see someone’s blood, take a moment to assess the severity of the situation. Consider whether there are others around who may be better able to step in than you. Also consider how injured the person appears to be. If you are uncertain about either of these, you may wish to call 9-1-1 and explain the situation to the emergency operator. That person will help you to understand if and how you should interact with the person who is bleeding.
If the situation is not severe enough to warrant a call to 9-1-1, you will want to take Universal Precautions. Universal Precautions are a list of ways in which a person is recommended to behave in order to protect themselves when interacting with someone else’s blood. As part of the precautions, you should assume the blood is infectious. This is not rooted in judgment but rather in ensuring you are overly cautious rather than not cautious enough. Based on this assumption, you will want to put on appropriate protection, including gloves, eyewear, or a mask (depending on the situation you are in). If the person is consistently bleeding, you may choose to reassess whether you are the best person to interact with the injury, and you may choose to call 9-1-1 or ask someone else to do this.
If the blood is contained (either because the person is no longer bleeding or because the injured person is no longer on the scene, and you are simply dealing with a blood spill), make sure to prevent others from interacting with the blood by making sure they are aware of the spill. Then, clean and disinfect the area and remove the bloody cleaning tools by placing them in a trash receptacle that cannot be touched by others - placing that bag into a secondary bag, and marking that with a biohazard label. Then, clean your hands with soap and warm water, scrubbing all exposed skin in order to make sure you are removing any contaminants. When this has been completed, ask the facility or contact a non-emergency number to find out where to dispose of the biohazard bag.
How do I protect others from my blood?
If you are bleeding, you may be unable to focus on your blood exposure, depending on the severity of your injury. In that case, focus on your own survival and allow others to focus on protecting themselves. If you are bleeding in a small way, you can cover your own injury with proper bandages. If you have left blood anywhere, you can request proper cleaning supplies and insist on cleaning the spill on your own. This helps to limit others’ interactions with your blood.
In my work I am exposed to blood: how can I prepare myself?
The answer to this depends on your risk to blood exposure. Some people are exposed to blood due to their work in the healthcare industry or in a job where they might be exposed to someone’s blood within their daily activities. These types of jobs include anyone who works in a hospital or caregiving facility (nursing home, adult day care, child day care, etc.) as well as anyone who interacts with active people (working in any school setting, positions that involve participating on or interacting with sports teams, etc.). In such professions, blood exposure can put people at risk to hepatitis C and other blood pathogens.
In addition, police officers, fire fighters, soldiers, and others who may deal with injured people are also at higher risk for being exposed to blood and blood that may have hepatitis C or other blood pathogens. If you are in one of these types of fields, your employer likely already has a protocol for those who may be exposed to blood. If you are uncertain what that protocol is, you can speak with your supervisor or human resources department to ask both for the written steps to follow and to ask about being properly trained.
I am not in a field exposed to blood: what should I know about hepatitis C exposure?
Others do not typically interact with blood but feel more comfortable thinking through these risks in advance so that they are ready to act if or when the situation arises. This helps to prepare them in case blood exposure to hepatitis C occurs. Unfortunately, everyday life experiences can lead to someone unexpectedly interacting with blood. This is because there can be blood involved in everything from a paper cut in the office to a car accident, from a fall in a grocery store aisle to a neighborhood child’s scraped knee on your sidewalk.
If you are simply looking to be aware of how to protect yourself from small amounts of blood, you may wish to read up on Universal Precautions. You may decide to keep a first aid kit at your desk, in your vehicle, and/or in your home. These kits can be purchased with all of their supplies included, which will ensure you have all of the tools you need if an accident occurs. These supplies will include gloves and masks to protect you from the blood of others, as well as basic treatment tools like gauze and bandages. If you are seeking more in-depth training on how to handle trauma, you may wish to contact your local police or fire department to inquire about completing courses in first aid, where someone trained in medical procedures can teach you how to prepare and how to act if an emergency arises.
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