Bloodborne Infectious Diseases Risk Factors

At a glance

  • Learn how to treat exposures to blood or body fluids to reduce the risk of contracting a bloodborne disease.
  • Needlesticks and exposure through mucous membranes or skin put healthcare, public safety, emergency response, and other workers at risk daily.
  • Find out about exposure prevention practices and learn how you can do your part.
Close-up of red blood cells

Emergency sharps information

Risks of exposure to blood and other body fluids

It is vital for healthcare workers to be informed about ways to protect patients and themselves from bloodborne infectious diseases. Bloodborne pathogens of primary concern are the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), hepatitis B virus (HBV), and hepatitis C virus (HCV).

A healthcare worker in a protective suit and gloves inserting a needle into a vial.
Needlestick exposures can occur in many occupations.


As you work, you may experience:

  • A needlestick.
  • Another sharps injury.
  • An exposure to patient blood or other body fluids.

If any of these occur, take the following steps:

  • Wash needlesticks and cuts with soap and water.
  • Flush splashes to the nose, mouth, or skin with water.
  • Irrigate eyes with clean water, saline, or sterile irrigants.
  • Report the incident to your supervisor.
  • Immediately seek medical treatment.

Medical Providers

Get answers about treating exposures‎

Call the Clinicians' Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) Line at 1-888-448-4911 if you have questions about proper medical treatment for workplace exposures.


Workers and employers should take advantage of needle-free and sharps-free equipment, work practices, engineering controls (including safety-engineered sharps), and personal protective equipment.

Always consider the following hierarchy of controls:

  • Elimination or substitution.
  • Work practices and administrative controls.
  • Engineering controls.

Elimination or substitution

Eliminate sharps or substitute with equipment that does not cause puncture wounds or lacerations. In some cases, healthcare workers can reduce the risk of transmitting bloodborne pathogens by eliminating sharps devices and substituting with non-sharp devices. Examples include needle-free medication delivery systems and the use of blunt surgical suture needles.

Work practices and administrative controls

Policies and procedures can help protect healthcare workers from bloodborne pathogens. These include:

  • An exposure control plan to identify work practices at risk of exposures to bloodborne pathogens.
  • Policies to reduce exposure risks, such as:
    • Clearly labeling biohazardous waste.
    • Procedures for safely disposing of biohazardous waste.
    • Regularly disposing of filled sharps containers.
  • Protocols to follow when exposure occurs.
A needle being placed in a sharps disposal container.
Sharps disposal containers are critical to risk reduction.

Engineering controls

Engineering controls are important for protecting against bloodborne pathogen hazards. Types of engineering controls include:

  • Sharps disposal containers.
    • They are made with puncture-resistant plastic or metal.
    • They have specially designed lids that only allow sharps to be deposited.
    • They are too small for a hand to enter.
    • It is important to place sharps disposal containers in areas where needed and making sure they are not overfilled.
  • Safety-engineered sharps devices.
    • Using safety-engineered sharps devices can prevent injuries and resulting infections with bloodborne pathogens in both patients and healthcare workers.
    • Safety-engineered devices include retracting needles, sliding sheaths, and hinged needle shields.
    • Safety features are especially helpful when the device is not in use and during disposal.

Personal protective equipment (PPE)

Administrative and engineering controls are preferred methods of protecting healthcare workers. However, using PPE such as gloves are a part of routine patient care. When protecting against bloodborne pathogens by touching patients and surfaces or splashes and sprays of blood and body fluids, PPE may include: