America is bleeding. We are in the midst of a escalating epidemic of gun violence, with mass shootings becoming a daily tragedy. Vehicle deaths increased last year by 10.5%. Even shark attacks are increasing. but it’s okay. You are safe. You weren’t injured, or at least not dangerous. Now, however, in the wake of the chaos and turmoil, you realize there is blood – someone else’s blood – on you. You should check it out.
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We’ve spent the past few years getting used to a new, healthier normal, becoming painfully aware of the dangers of just breathing on each other. Yet we rarely look at the consequences bleeding over each other. It certainly didn’t cross my mind in a concrete way until I recently ended up in the path of an elderly pedestrian with a head injury. The ambulance waited with him, ineptly trying to line his wound with a paper towel. After the paramedics arrived and he was on his way to the hospital, I showered in the toilet of a nearby restaurant. I went home and showered and washed my clothes. I called my doctor.
Although the risks of infection from superficial physical contact with blood are relatively low, this does not mean that they should be automatically excluded following an accident or violent act. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 2.4 to 4.7 million Americans live with hepatitis C, and up to 2.2 million live with hepatitis B. More than half do not know they have their condition, which can cause mild or severe illness. More serious, long-term symptoms. So it’s helpful for all of us to understand what health care workers, who have established well-researched protocols for just these types of events, know about exposure to blood. Being alert and prepared can be especially important when you don’t know the health of the other people involved in your accident.
First, you must know what you are, and what you are not exposed to.
“With regard to COVID-19, there is no risk of acquiring it through the blood because that is not a means of transmission for SARS-CoV-2. It is through respiratory secretions/fluids,” explains Erica Susky, an infection control practitioner in Toronto. However, it is not a good idea to think about how close you are to others, how long and how well the place is ventilated.
“For bloodborne viruses (HIV, hepatitis B and C), exposure can occur with blood but not with other body fluids (faeces, vomit, nasal secretions, saliva, sputum or tears), Susuke continues. “Exposure is possible when Infected blood comes into contact with improper skin, mucous membranes, and through the skin through a needle or sharp object. Factors to consider are whether the blood comes from an infected person, the amount of virus in the blood, if the infected person is immune (as vaccines against hepatitis B are available) and the volume of blood involved in exposure.” Nancy Mitchell, registered nurse and contributing writer at Assisted notes Living Center, notes that “While the most common blood-borne pathogens are HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C…there are more than 20 other pathogens that can be transmitted through exposure to blood. ”
Next, assess whether the person’s blood contained a viable entry point into your body. “One should be concerned if the blood comes into contact with mucous membranes or an opening in the skin,” says Sosky. Can blood get into a fresh cut or wound, or inside your mouth or nose, for example? If not, you are probably safe. “Risks should be absent if they occur with intact skin or any other physical barrier,” says Susky, “such as clothing.”
Regardless of the stakes, the faster and more thoroughly you can wash, the better (assuming of course you don’t need to keep evidence of a crime). “It’s important to clean the area right away,” says Mitchell. “Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water and do the same on any areas of the body that have been exposed. Wash your hands again once all the blood has been cleaned off.”
Even though we were outside and I didn’t notice any open wounds on myself while I was with the infected guy, I still got tested later for HIV, hepatitis B and C and COVID-19. I did not know him, nor did I know his state of health. There is no downside to being careful, and if I washed my hands before eating a meal, why wouldn’t I want to know if I had a serious infection? There are straightforward and relatively effective treatments for conditions transmitted through the bloodstream, but none that work if you don’t know you have one.
The hard truth of contemporary life in America is that on any given day, a random incident or act of mass violence can directly affect your life. And even in a best-case scenario, one in which you walk unscathed, you can still face unexpected consequences for your health. It’s hard to think about, but it’s good to prepare for it. And as long as we continue the bloodshed, we need to know what to do when a bit of it lands on us.
About protecting yourself from infection