First aid and infectious diseases
The Safety First Association’s Safety Handbook gives some first aid guidelines by Sam Kadiri and Dirk Niessing for cases including infectious diseases.
Infectious diseases are passed from one person, or animal, to another. Most commonly, these are referred to as blood borne, airborne and waterborne pathogens. In first aid, blood borne and airborne pathogens are most commonly transmitted through touching, breathing and cuts. People can become infected if touched by an infected person, or if the germs in that person’s blood, or other bodily fluids, pass into the body through breaks in the skin, or through the lining of the mouth, nose, or eyes.
Therefore, the greatest risk is in touching another person’s blood or bodily fluids directly (without protective gloves or some other protective barrier). These basic guidelines will help to reduce body fluid transmission when rendering first aid:
• Avoid direct contact with bodily fluids and blood whenever possible.
• Place barriers such as gloves or a clean, dry cloth between the victim’s bodily fluids and yourself.
• Wear protective clothing such as disposable gloves to cover any cuts, scrapes or skin conditions you have.
• Wash your hands with soap and water immediately after giving care.
• Do not eat, drink, or touch your mouth, nose or eyes when giving first aid.
• Do not touch objects that may be soiled with blood or other bodily fluids.
• Be prepared by having a stocked first aid kit easily accessible.
These simple guidelines can reduce the risk of getting or transmitting infections:
Needle stick/sharp injury
All persons who sustain a needle-prick type injury should follow the procedure set out below. This includes the action they should take if they have been exposed to blood or other high-risk body fluids known (or strongly suspected) to be infected with Hepatitis B or the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV).
In circumstances of suspected Hepatitis B or HIV exposure, a physician should see the person promptly. Action may include taking the post exposure prophylaxis (PEP) and counselling might also be initiated.
The risk of acquiring Hepatitis B is considerably more likely than HIV. Although the risk of infection from a needle stick injury is small, and through mucous membrane exposure even smaller, the risk can be reduced still further if the PEP medication is taken as soon as reasonably possible after exposure.
Action to be taken
• Encourage the wound to bleed.
• Wash with soap and water.
• Dry and apply a waterproof dressing.
• Report the incident to the employer.
• Contact the occupational health practitioner.
Assessing infection risk
Unused or clean sharp needles definitely pose no risk of infection. Used or dirty sharp needles from either a known Hepatitis B, HIV carrier, or an unknown source, as well as a human bite, scratch or mucous membrane splash: contact a medical centre as soon as possible.
We will discuss HIV infection in more detail in the next edition of SHEQ MANAGEMENT.