Bloodborne viruses in healthcare workers: report exposures and reduce risks
Monitoring significant occupational exposures to HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C in healthcare workers, and advising on avoiding injuries.
PHE’s Health Protection Services monitors significant occupational exposures to HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C among healthcare workers and those working within the healthcare settings.
This guide explains how:
- NHS Trusts and healthcare providers can provide voluntary confidential reports of significant occupational exposures
- healthcare workers can reduce the risk of exposure to bloodborne viruses (BBVs) at work
Every report is important. To find out about the surveillance scheme, and how to become a reporting site, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Exposure risks to healthcare workers
Healthcare workers are potentailly exposed to BBVs while they work via:
- percutaneous routes, where a sharp object cuts or penetrates the skin
- mucocutaneous routes, which include contamination of the nose, eyes, broken skin or mouth
Healthcare workers include:
- clinical staff who have regular clinical contact with patients
- laboratory staff who have direct contact with potentially infectious clinical specimens
- non-clinical support staff who may have contact with patients, but not usually of a prolonged or close nature
The risk of a BBV being transmitted depends on:
- the viral load in the infected source patient
- the depth of the injury
- whether the procedure involved placing a needle in a patient’s vein or artery
A significant exposure is a percutaneous or mucocutaneous exposure to blood or other body fluids from a source patient who is infected with:
- hepatitis B surface antigen positive (HBsAg positive)
- hepatitis C
Health Protection Services needs your help to record all cases of significant occupational exposures.
The reporting process is voluntary and in strict medical confidence.
We monitor the numbers of healthcare workers exposed to viruses at work, and need as much detailed data as possible including:
- the circumstances of the significant occupational exposure
- the management of the exposure
- outcomes, including whether the healthcare worker acquired a BBV
We also look for any incidents where the healthcare worker has started post exposure prophylaxis (PEP) for HIV, regardless of the HIV status of the source patient.
We accept reports from hospitals in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Reporting sites and reporters include:
- occupational health departments
- genitourinary medicine clinics
- infection control nurses
Submit an exposure report: voluntary and confidential
- Complete the initial report form around the time of the exposure incident, including the Unique Incident Identifier (UII).
- Send the initial report form to PHE’s Health Protection Services, Centre for Infectious Disease Surveillance and Control using the pre-paid address label provided.
- Keep a copy for the reporting site’s records.
The UII protects the anonymity of the healthcare worker involved, but allows the submitting site to relocate details of the incident and person involved. If Health Protection Services require further information about a particular incident we will refer to cases only by the UII.
See an example of Occupational exposure to bloodborne viruses: initial report form.
On receiving an initial report form, we request additional information 6 weeks and 6 months after the exposure. This information includes:
- clinical management of exposures, including whether the health care worker received post exposure prophylaxis (PEP)
- side effects of PEP
Eye of the needle is the PHE report on significant occupational exposures to bloodborne viruses in healthcare workers: includes a slideset on significant occupational exposures.
See Immunisation against infectious diseases: the green book on vaccination against hepatitis B and immunisation of healthcare and laboratory staff.
Management of bloodborne viruses in healthcare workers
UK Advisory Panel for healthcare workers infected with bloodborne viruses gives advice about transmission and management of BBVs in healthcare workers, and keeps a confidential register of infected workers.
Medical and dental students: health clearance for hepatitis B, hepatitis C, HIV and tuberculosis from Medical Schools Council, 2008.