Today, July 28th, is World Hepatitis Day. Organized by the World Hepatitis Alliance, this day is set aside to educate the world about hepatitis. This year’s motto is “Think Again,” encouraging us to remember that hepatitis is a dangerous disease that can spread just like HIV—and be prevented with the same methods you would use to avoid contracting HIV.
According to the World Hepatitis Alliance, “80% of people with hepatitis don’t know it!” In short, hepatitis is a virus that causes inflammation of the liver. It causes symptoms like fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, dark urine, clay-colored bowel movements & jaundice. There are five different types of hepatitis: A, B, C, D & E. Vaccinations are only available for hepatitis A, B & E.
Hepatitis B, C & D are transmitted much like HIV, through blood-to-blood contact and through sexual practices. Hepatitis A & E are transmitted through blood-to-blood contact or by eating foods or drinking water that has been contaminated by infected feces.
Knowing these facts about hepatitis, home care providers and professional caregivers should take precautions to avoid exposure to blood that may be infected. The Centers for Disease Control recommends that healthcare workers take “universal precautions” anytime they are working in situations involving a patient’s blood. Universal precautions are important because you may not know whether or not a person’s blood is infected with a dangerous blood-borne pathogen, and it’s best to be safe and protect yourself from exposure to any blood other than your own.
Caregivers should be trained to take universal precautions if they may be exposed to blood when assisting a client. Here are some things the CDC recommends:
- Always use protective barriers to prevent exposure to blood.
- Latex (or medical) gloves are an appropriate protective barrier for hands. These gloves are for one-time use only and should be safely disposed of after each use. Never try to wash and re-use them. To reduce the risk of blood getting into your eyes, nose or mouth, you should wear a mask, protective eyewear or face shield.
- If you come in contact with blood, without gloves on your hands, immediately wash your hands and any other exposed skin thoroughly with soap.
- When cleaning up blood spills, regular general-purpose household gloves are sufficient. These gloves may be washed and re-used, but always discard them if they become cracked or discolored or show any signs of deterioration.
- Universal precautions DO NOT apply to feces, nasal secretions, saliva, sputum, sweat, tears, urine, and vomitus unless they contain visible blood. (You may choose to wear gloves in some of these situations—just to be safe—but the CDC says that universal precautions need not apply, and normal hand washing is sufficient after contact with these substances.)
The CDC also recommends that all healthcare workers receive the HBV vaccination. For caregivers, it might be a good idea to get the vaccination just as an extra precaution.
It may seem impersonal or a burden to always wear gloves when helping clients with things like toileting or wound care, but it’s the safe thing to do to protect your health and the health of those around you. Today, on World Hepatitis Day, it’s time to spread awareness, and take the necessary precautions to keep yourself safe and prevent the spread of the disease.