Being an EMT comes with a unique set of occupational hazards, including increased risk of exposure to bodily fluids. In order to keep yourself, your fellow providers, and your patients protected, EMS personnel should stay current on the latest risks, prevention, and protocols in the event of bodily fluid exposure through EMT or paramedic continuing education. Here is a brief review to help you refresh your skills and stay safe.
Bodily fluids can be vehicles for infection and other pathogens. Some of the most common concerns are bloodborne pathogens, such as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), hepatitis B virus (HBV), and hepatitis C (HVC). These viruses could also potentially be transmitted by semen and vaginal secretions, amniotic fluid, synovial fluid, peritoneal and pericardial fluids, and cerebrospinal fluid. Other bodily fluids like saliva, sweat, urine, and vomit carry a lower risk of transmitting HCV and HIV.
As the New York State Department of Health reminds us, “In emergency situations, differentiating between body fluid types is difficult or impossible, and all body fluids are to be considered potentially infectious.”
With such high risks of infectious disease, workplace safety as an EMT should be paramount. One of the simplest ways to protect yourself from bodily fluid exposure is to comply with your department’s standards for personal protective equipment (PPE).
At an absolute minimum, EMTs should always wear gloves when treating a patient. Gloves place a barrier between your skin and infectious fluids or other contaminated surfaces.
Other PPE you should consider using or may be required to use in your department include:
Speak with your designated infection control officers (DICO) about your department’s specific requirements and safety protocols. Even with PPE in place, always practice situational awareness. Note when an emergency will likely involve bodily fluids, and look out for your team members. Reminding each other when to follow protocol keeps everyone safe.
Speak with your DICO and review the specific protocols for your county and state as part of your EMT continuing education (EMT CE) so you know what to do if you or a member of your team is exposed.
You have a responsibility to yourself, your colleagues, your family, and the general public to report any exposures so that you can reduce the transmission of these communicable diseases. The earlier you report your exposure, the more likely that prophylactic treatment will be effective.
“When washing the affected area, use warm but not hot water; hot water can open the pores and consequently allow entry of the microorganism. Also, friction is important, but you do not want to be too aggressive with the friction as it can cause the area to become more abraded and allow for entry of the germs into a larger area.
“Should you have an exposure through the eyes, nose, or mouth, flush the area repeatedly with copious amounts of water.
“It is NEVER recommended to use caustic agents on the skin or mucosal membranes or to inject antiseptics or disinfectants into wounds during the post-exposure period.
“Exposure to contaminated blood or bodily fluids, whether you have been vaccinated or not, requires reporting to your Dedicated Infection Control Officer (DICO) and protocols must still be followed to ensure that you are receiving adequate care to maintain your health and well-being, both physical and psychological.”
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