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Prevention of hepatitis B virus and hepatitis C virus infection among healthcare providers

David J Weber, MD, MPH
Section Editor
John G Bartlett, MD
Deputy Editor
Jennifer Mitty, MD, MPH


Many pathogens can be transmitted to healthcare providers (HCP) following exposure to blood or body fluids. The most important of these are hepatitis B virus (HBV), hepatitis C virus (HCV), and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

The epidemiology and management of occupational exposures to HBV and HCV in HCP will be reviewed here. The prevention of HIV and other pathogens in HCP is discussed separately. (See "Management of healthcare personnel exposed to HIV" and "Immunizations for health care providers" and "Prevention and control of varicella-zoster virus in hospitals".)


Statistics on exposures — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that 5.6 million workers in the healthcare industry and related occupations are at risk of occupational exposure to bloodborne pathogens, including human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), hepatitis B virus (HBV), hepatitis C virus (HCV), and others [1]. Although the focus on post-exposure management is on HIV, HBV, and HCV, more than 30 different pathogens have caused documented occupational infection following exposure to blood or body fluids in healthcare providers (HCP) or hospital laboratory personnel (table 1) [2].

All occupational exposure to blood and other potentially infectious material place HCP at risk for infection with bloodborne pathogens. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) defines blood to mean human blood, blood components, and products made from human blood [1]. Other potentially infectious material includes body fluids such as: semen, vaginal secretions, cerebrospinal fluid, synovial fluid, pleural fluid, peritoneal fluid, amniotic fluid, saliva associated with dental procedures, and body fluid that is visibly contaminated with blood. All body fluids should be considered infectious in situations where it is difficult or impossible to differentiate between bloody fluids. Any unfixed tissues or organs (other than intact skin) from a human (living or dead) are also considered potentially infectious material. For laboratory personnel, other potentially infectious material includes HIV-containing cell or tissue cultures, organ cultures, HIV- or hepatitis virus-containing culture medium or other solutions, as well as blood, organs, or tissues from experimental animals infected with HIV, HBV, or HCV.

The main occupational risk for acquiring a bloodborne pathogen is a percutaneous sharps injury with a contaminated object. Mucous membrane exposure to blood or other potentially infectious material can also transmit HIV, HBV, and HCV. Reports regarding the frequency of such occupational risks are as follows:

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Literature review current through: Nov 2017. | This topic last updated: Sep 27, 2017.
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