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Facts About...


What is it?

Body fluids including blood, semen, vaginal fluid, cerebral spinal fluid, body tissues and organs can spread infectious diseases such as hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV (human immunodeficiency virus). Saliva does not contain HIV or hepatitis C, but may contain small amounts of hepatitis B. Breast milk can contain HIV. Urine, feces, vomit, and tears do not carry these infections. However, any of the body fluids listed can carry hepatitis B, hepatitis C or HIV if blood is present.

How is it spread?

For an infection to spread, it must be present in the blood or body fluid of another person i.e., the person has an infectious disease and has a way to get into your blood stream. This can happen:

  • when needles are shared or you have a needle stick injury
  • when blood or body fluid come in contact with skin that is damaged or cut, especially when a cut or abrasion is less than 3 days old (healthy skin will not spread infections and acts as a barrier to the infection)
  • when infected fluids are splashed or in any way enters your eyes, nose or mouth
  • during sexual activity where body fluids are shared

What do I do if I am exposed?

The best action to take is to go to an emergency department as soon as possible after your exposure. You will receive first aid if needed and be assessed for risk of exposure to an infection. You may receive some blood tests to help determine if you need any special treatment.

How is it treated?

Hepatitis B vaccination and/or immune globulin may be an option to give your body immunity. If you have been vaccinated for hepatitis B in the past you may already be immune and will need no additional treatment. A blood test can show whether you are immune or not. There are medications that help to prevent the HIV virus from infecting you. The medications are strong and do have side effects and are recommended only for high risk exposures. The treatment, to work well for you, should be started as soon as possible after an exposure – ideally within 2 hours. There is no treatment for hepatitis C once an exposure has occurred.

How can I protect myself?

  • Hepatitis B is best prevented by vaccination.
  • Follow up with routine prenatal screening for each pregnancy so that newborns can receive appropriate vaccination if required.
  • Always practice safer sex, including using condoms.
  • Never share needles and avoid sharing personal items such as razors and toothbrushes.
  • Carefully investigate personal body services (e.g., tattooing, body piercing, nail services) to make sure they meet infection control recommendations.
  • Use protective equipment to prevent contact with other people’s blood and body fluids (e.g., gloves, eyewear).
  • If you are a health care worker or an emergency service worker, risk assessment followed by the implementation of Routine Practices to reduce or remove risk should be used in your daily practice.

Follow up with a health care provider as soon as possible if you know you have been exposed.

October 25, 2013