Ryan White HIV/AIDS Treatment Extension Act of 2009

Guidelines Describing the Circumstances in Which Emergency Response Employees May Be Exposed to Such Diseases

A. Exposure to Diseases Routinely Transmitted Through Contact or Body Fluid Exposures

Contact transmission is divided into two subgroups: Direct and indirect.

  • Direct transmission occurs when microorganisms are transferred from an infected person to another person without a contaminated intermediate object or person.
  • Indirect transmission involves the transfer of an infectious agent through a contaminated intermediate object or person.

Contact with blood and other body fluids may transmit the bloodborne pathogens HIV, HBV, and HCV. When EREs have contact circumstances in which differentiation between fluid types is difficult, if not impossible, all body fluids are considered potentially hazardous. In the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Bloodborne Pathogens Standard, an exposure incident is defined as a “specific eye, mouth, other mucous membrane, non-intact skin, or parenteral contact with blood or other potentially infectious materials that results from the performance of an employee’s duties.”1

Occupational exposure to cutaneous anthrax would include exposure of an ERE’s nonintact skin or mucous membrane to drainage from a cutaneous anthrax lesion; percutaneous injuries with sharp instruments potentially contaminated with lesion drainage should also be considered exposures. Contact with blood or other bodily fluids is not thought to pose a significant risk for anthrax transmission.

Occupational exposure to rabies would include exposure of an ERE’s wound, nonintact skin, or mucous membrane to saliva, nerve tissue, or cerebral spinal fluid from an infected individual. Percutaneous injuries with contaminated sharp instruments should be considered exposures because of potential contact with infected nervous tissue. Intact skin contact with infectious materials or contact only with blood, urine, or feces is not thought to pose a significant risk for rabies transmission.

Occupational exposures of concern to vaccinia would include contact of mucous membranes (eyes, nose, mouth, etc.) or non-intact skin with drainage from a vaccinia vaccination site or other mucopurulent lesion caused by vaccinia infection.

B. Exposure to Diseases Routinely Transmitted Through Airborne or Aerosolized Means

Occupational exposure to pathogens routinely transmitted through aerosolized airborne transmission may occur when an ERE shares air space with a contagious individual who has an infectious disease caused by these pathogens. Such an individual can expel small droplets into the air through activities such as coughing, sneezing and talking. After water evaporates from the airborne droplets, the dried-out remnants can remain airborne as droplet nuclei.

Occupational exposure to pathogens routinely transmitted through aerosolized droplet transmission may occur when an ERE comes within about six feet of a contagious individual who has an infectious disease caused by these pathogens and who creates large respiratory droplets through activities such as sneezing, coughing, and talking.

C. Special Note on Exposure to Diseases Transmitted by Agents Potentially Used for Bioterrorism or Biological Warfare

The Select Agents list2 maintained by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), lists biological agents and toxins that have the potential to pose a severe threat to human health and that may be used for or adapted for bioterrorist attacks.

There are special reporting requirements for Select Agents, as detailed in 42 CFR part 73. Those agents included on the HHS Select Agents List that are routinely transmitted person to person and for which natural transmission remains a significant concern are categorized in the “List of Potentially Life-Threatening Infectious Diseases to Which Emergency Response Employees May be Exposed,” Part I above, according to their modes of transmission.

The remaining agents on the Select Agent List would not typically exhibit human-to-human transmission or be considered contemporary contagious threats. However, in the setting of potential intentional modification to artificially increase transmissibility and/or lethality (“weaponization”) and deployment as bio-weapons (potentially in quantities far greater than would naturally be encountered), atypical pathways of transmission may occur. In this case, EREs may be exposed by entering contaminated environments to care for victims and by exposure to contaminated individuals from those environments.

Guidelines Describing the Manner in Which Medical Facilities Should Make Determinations for Purposes of Section 2695B(d) [42 U.S.C. 300ff-133(d)]

Section 2695B(d) [42 U.S.C. 300ff–133(d)] specifies that medical facilities must respond to appropriate requests by making determinations about whether EREs have been exposed to infectious diseases included on the list issued pursuant to sec. 2695(a)(1) [42 U.S.C. 300ff–131(a)(1)]. A medical facility has access to two types of information related to a potential exposure incident to use in making a determination. First, the request submitted to the medical facility contains a ‘‘statement of the facts collected’’ about the ERE’s potential exposure incident.3 Information about infectious disease transmission provided in relevant CDC guidance documents4 or in current in assessing whether there is a realistic possibility that the exposure incident described in the statement of the facts could potentially transmit an infectious disease included on the list issued pursuant to sec. 2695(a)(1) [42 U.S.C. 300ff–131(a)(1)]

Second, the medical facility possesses medical information about the victim of an emergency transported and/or treated by the ERE. This is the medical information that the medical facility would normally obtain according to its usual standards of care to diagnose or treat the victim, since the Act does not require special testing in response to a request for a determination. As stated in sec. 2695G(b) [42 U.S.C. 300ff–138(b)], “this part may not, with respect to victims of emergencies, be construed to authorize or require a medical facility to test any such victim for any infectious disease.”

Information about the potential exposure incident and medical information about the victim should be used in the following manner to make one of the four possible determinations as required by sec. 2695B(d) [42 U.S.C. 300ff–133(d)]:

  1. The ERE involved has been exposed to an infectious disease included on the list:
    • Facts provided in the request document a realistic possibility that an exposure incident occurred with potential for transmitting a listed infectious disease from the victim of an emergency to the involved ERE; and
    • The medical facility possesses sufficient medical information allowing it to determine that the victim of an emergency treated and/or transported by the involved ERE had a listed infectious disease that was possibly contagious at the time of the potential exposure incident.
  2. The ERE involved has not been exposed to an infectious disease included on the list:
    • Facts provided in the request rule out a realistic possibility that an exposure incident occurred with potential for transmitting a listed infectious disease from the victim of an emergency to the involved ERE; or
    • The medical facility possesses sufficient medical information allowing it to determine that the victim of an emergency treated and/or transported by the involved ERE did not have a listed infectious disease that was possibly contagious at the time of the potential exposure incident.
  3. The medical facility possesses no information on whether the victim involved has an infectious disease included on the list:
    • The medical facility lacks sufficient medical information allowing it to determine whether the victim of an emergency treated and/or transported by the involved ERE had, or did not have, a listed infectious disease at the time of the potential exposure incident.
    • If the medical facility subsequently acquires sufficient medical information allowing it to determine that the victim of an emergency treated and/or transported by the involved ERE had a listed infectious disease that was possibly contagious at the time of the potential exposure incident, then it should revise its determination to reflect the new information.
  4. The facts submitted in the request are insufficient to make the determination about whether the ERE was exposed to an infectious disease included on the list:
    • Facts provided in the request insufficiently document the exposure incident, making it impossible to determine if there was a realistic possibility that an exposure incident occurred with potential for transmitting an infectious disease included on the list issued pursuant to Section 2695(a)(1) [42 U.S.C. 300ff–131(a)(1)] from the victim of an emergency to the involved ERE.

[1]29 C.F.R. § 1910.1030.

[2]Notwithstanding any notification procedures specified here, all reporting requirements that are required under 42 C.F.R. part 73 remain applicable. The HHS Select Agents list is updated regularly and can be found on the National Select Agent Registry website: http://www.selectagents.gov/external icon.

[3]Section 2695B [42 U.S.C. § 300ff–133].

[4] For example: Siegel JD, Rhinehart E, Jackson M, Chiarello L, and the Healthcare Infection Control Practices Advisory Committee. 2007 Guideline for Isolation Precautions: Preventing Transmission of Infectious Agents in Healthcare Settings. CDC. Updated U.S. Public Health Service Guidelines for the Management of Occupational Exposures to HIV and Recommendations for Postexposure Prophylaxis. MMWR 2005;54 (No. RR–9):1–17.

Page last reviewed: March 26, 2020