Bloodborne pathogens cause diseases through contact with blood. Since these diseases are present in an infected persons' blood they are often present in other bodily fluids, so direct contact with blood is not always the only way to transmit them. Some bloodborne pathogens pose few significant health threats and some are potentially fatal, often by leading to other illnesses. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers extensive information about these pathogens.
Hepatitis B attacks the liver. It can cause fatal liver conditions like cirrhosis, liver cancer and liver failure. The CDC estimates that 3,000 people die each year from Hepatitis B related illness in the United States. Hepatitis B is commonly transmitted among drug users through shared needles and can be transmitted through any blood contact that involves a puncture of the skin or mucosal contact with other infectious body fluids.
A Hepatitis B vaccine became available in 1982 and vaccinated individuals have virtually no chance of contracting the disease.
The CDC lists Hepatitis C as the most common chronic bloodborne infection in the United States. Hepatitis C is transmitted most efficiently through direct blood contact involving a skin puncture. Transmission through sex or contact with other bodily fluids is possible but uncommon. As with Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C can result in chronic, fatal liver diseases. The CDC estimates that four times as many people die from Hepatitis C related illnesses than from Hepatitis B.
No Hepatitis C vaccine is available.
Human immunodeficiency virus causes AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome). AIDS weakens the immune system making it difficult for infected persons to resister other illnesses. AIDS is a late stage of the HIV viral infection and HIV medications can stave off the onset of AIDS for years or even decades. HIV is transmitted through unprotected sexual activity but can also be contracted through direct blood contact though skin punctures or to mucus membranes. The CDC recorded over 14,000 HIV related deaths in 2007.
No HIV vaccine is available.
Viral Hemorrhagic Fever
Viral Hemorrhagic Fever (VHF) refers to a group of illnesses that affect multiple organ systems. Bleeding, or hemorrhaging can be a major symptom of these diseases. The CDC has a Special Pathogens Branch that deals with the most sever VHFs. Insects and rodents are known hosts of VHFs but the hosts of some VHFs are unknown. Ebola and Marburg are two of the most well-known and dangerous VHFs. CDC records of Ebola and Marburg outbreaks indicate that the viruses most commonly occur in a few African countries and are often fatal. VHFs can be transmitted through blood and other bodily fluids but the fluids do not have to enter the skin through a puncture to cause infection.
Treatment for these viruses is limited and there are no vaccines available.