Contact with Blood or Body Fluids: Protecting Against Infection
Blood and body fluids, such as saliva, semen and vaginal fluid, can contain viruses. These may be passed on from an infected person to other people. If you have contact with a person’s blood or body fluids and you are not using preventative measures, you could be at risk of HIV, hepatitis B or hepatitis C. Other body fluids, such as sweat, tears, vomit or urine, may contain and pass on these viruses when blood is present in the fluid, but the risk is low.
What should I do if I come into contact with blood or body fluids?
If you come into contact with blood or body fluids, always treat them as potentially infectious. If you prick yourself with a used needle, hold the affected limb down low to get it to bleed. Do not squeeze the wound or soak it in bleach. Wash the area with warm water and soap.
If you are splashed with blood or body fluids and your skin has an open wound, healing sore, or scratch, wash the area well with soap and water. If you are splashed in the eyes, nose or mouth, rinse well with water. If you have been bitten, wash the wound with soap and water.
If you are sexually assaulted, go to the hospital emergency department as soon as possible. Reporting the incident immediately after a sexual assault can help to ensure that as much evidence as possible is obtained. For more information about sexual assault and to learn what support services are available, visit the Justice BC website at www.justicebc.ca/en/cjis/reporting/crime/examples/sexual_assault.html.
If you have come into contact with blood or body fluids in any of the ways described above, you may need a vaccine or medication as soon as possible to protect against infection. It is important that you are assessed as soon as possible after the contact.
What will happen at the emergency department?
You will be asked to give informed consent in order for your blood to be tested for HIV, hepatitis B and C. Treatment will be determined based on the type of exposure to blood or body fluids and your test results. The emergency doctor may try to determine whether the person’s blood or body fluid may be infectious for HIV, hepatitis B and C.
In case of possible exposure to HIV, the doctor may start you on a course of anti-virus medications without waiting for test results. These medications should be started within 2 hours after exposure, or as soon as possible within 72 hours. The doctor will refer you to your own doctor if these medications should be taken for 1 full month.
To help protect you from hepatitis B disease, you may be given a hepatitis B vaccine and hepatitis B immune globulin. Hepatitis B immune globulin contains antibodies that provide immediate but short-term protection against hepatitis B virus. The hepatitis B vaccine provides long lasting protection by helping your body make its own antibodies against the virus.
There is no vaccine to prevent infection with hepatitis C, either before exposure to the virus or after contact with infected blood or body fluids. Blood tests will show if you have become infected with hepatitis C. You may be treated for the infection.
If you have a serious cut or wound, and depending on how deep and/or dirty the scratch, puncture, bite or wound is, you may get a booster dose of tetanus vaccine if your last dose was given 5 or more years ago.
To find out if you have become infected from contact with blood or body fluids, you will need follow-up blood tests at 3 and 6 weeks and then at 6 and 9 months after the exposure.
What is the risk of getting HIV, hepatitis B or hepatitis C?
The risk of getting HIV, hepatitis B or C depends on the amount of virus in the blood or body fluid and the type of contact. For example, a piercing through the skin poses a greater risk than a splash on the skin.
The risk of getting infected after exposure to HIV-infected blood or body fluids is about 0.1 to 0.3 per cent. This means that 1 to 3 people will get infected for every 1000 exposures. If you are not already immunized and do not receive any treatment after being exposed, the risk of getting infected with hepatitis B virus is about 30 per cent – about 3 out of 10 people may be infected from exposure to blood or body fluids. The risk of getting infected with hepatitis C is up to 7 per cent or 7 out of 100 people.
The emergency department doctor will tell you whether your exposure puts you at risk of these infections.
How do I prevent the spread of infection to others?
Sometimes it is not possible to know for at least 6 months if you have become infected after an exposure. If you get infected, you can spread the infection to others. While you are waiting for the results of follow-up testing, follow these steps to help prevent spreading the infection to others:
- Do not have sex (vaginal, oral or rectal). If you have sex, use a male or female condom every time. For information on preventing STIs, see HealthLinkBC File #08o Preventing Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs).
- Do not donate blood, plasma, organs, breast milk, tissue, or sperm.
- Do not share toothbrushes, dental floss, razors, or other items that may have blood or body fluids on them.
- Cover open cuts and scratches until they heal.
- Carefully throw away anything with blood on it, such as tampons, pads, tissues, dental floss, and bandages. Put sharp items such as used razors or needles into a container and tape shut. Throw away in the garbage—do not place in a recycling box.
- Do not share drug snorting, smoking or injection equipment such as needles and syringes, straws and pipes.
If you become pregnant, see your health care provider or call the Oak Tree Clinic at BC Women’s Hospital and Health Centre at 604-875-2212 or toll-free in B.C. at 1-888-711-3030.
How can I safely clean a spill or a wound?
When cleaning spills, wear clean, disposable gloves and always use absorbent material first, such as paper towels. Then clean the area of the spill more thoroughly with soap and water, and finally disinfect it with household bleach. A fresh solution of bleach should be used for disinfecting and can be prepared by mixing 1 part of bleach to 9 parts of water. The bleach solution should be left in contact with the spill area for at least 10 minutes before wiping it up.
Wear gloves when handling any body fluids or cleaning cuts, scrapes or wounds. Wash your hands carefully after touching any body fluids and after removing and disposing of gloves in a plastic bag. Add gloves to your first aid kit so you are prepared.
How do I protect myself and others?
Teach others and especially children about how to avoid germs and diseases. Teach children to never touch used needles, syringes or condoms, and to tell an adult immediately if they find one. It is important to quickly and carefully dispose of a used condom, needle or syringe. Always wear clean disposable gloves or use tongs, pliers or another object to pick up used condoms, needles and syringes. Discard condoms in a plastic bag. Needles and syringes should be placed in a metal or plastic container with a puncture-proof lid and disposed of in the regular garbage or according to local by-laws. Always discard used gloves in a plastic bag and wash your hands carefully with warm water and soap. If the item used to remove the condom, needle or syringe is not disposable it should be disinfected with bleach.
For protection against germs and disease, always wash your hands:
- before preparing food and after handling uncooked foods;
- before eating or smoking;
- before breastfeeding;
- before and after providing first aid;
- before and after providing care to a person;
- after using the toilet or changing diapers;
- after handling blood or body fluids; and
- after coughing or sneezing.
Make sure to always cover your mouth with the inside of your elbow when you cough or sneeze, and then wash your hands.
For more information, see the following:
HealthLinkBC File #08m HIV and HIV Tests
HealthLinkBC File #18a Tetanus and Diphtheria (Td)
HealthLinkBC File #25a Hepatitis B Vaccine
HealthLinkBC File #40a Hepatitis C Virus Infection
HealthLinkBC File #85 Hand Washing for Parents and Children