In honor of Hepatitis Awareness month, I wanted to briefly discuss hepatitis transmission, particularly in the healthcare setting.
Types of Hepatitis
There are 5 types (A-E) with types A, B, C being the most common. The leading cause of liver cancer is chronic hepatitis B (HBV) and hepatitis C (HCV). According to the CDC, 66% of individuals who have HBV and 40% of those with HCV are unaware of their diagnosis. The only way to know if you have hepatitis (any of the 5 types) is to get tested, especially if you aware you hit certain risk factors. Fortunately, hepatitis A and B are preventable, and hepatitis C is curable with treatment.
Transmission in Medicine
Healthcare workers are at an increased of acquiring HBV and/or HCV through needlestick injuries and blood and bodily fluid exposures. When healthcare workers experience percutaneous exposures by used or unsafe needles or other stick devices, they must act by following the steps provided by the CDC:
- Wash injury thoroughly with soap and water.
- Report the incident.
- Immediately seek post-exposure prophylaxis treatment. (Depending on where you work, there is typically a dedicated area in the facility that manages exposures to occupational injuries.)
These incidences can occur in any healthcare setting. As a matter of fact, I have had my own personal experience as I had fallen victim to an accidental situation from a needlestick injury in the operating room. As a medical student, I was assisting in a case when this occurred. I was double-gloved, but unfortunately the stick penetrated through the second glove. I immediately scrubbed out of the case and washed my hands thoroughly. Although the injury was minor, I was still advised by my uppers to head down to the ER for prophylactic treatment. I agreed, as it is always better to err on the side of caution.
In my situation, I was fortunate to be safe. However, the lesson I learned is that, even when taking all necessary precautions, accidents happen when we least expect it. Therefore, it is important to not only exercise caution, but also be aware of the steps to take when adverse events occur in the workplace.
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