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This is the second in a series of blog posts that will highlight OSHA's guidelines and manuals relating to bloodborne pathogens.
Hepatitis B virus (HBV) is a pathogenic microorganism that can cause potentially lifethreatening disease in humans. HBV infection is transmitted through exposure to blood and other potentially infectious materials (OPIM), as defined in the OSHA Bloodborne Pathogens standard, 29 CFR 1910.1030.
Any workers who have reasonably anticipated contact with blood or OPIM during performance of their jobs are considered to have occupational exposure and to be at risk of being infected. Workers infected with HBV face a risk for liver ailments which can be fatal, including cirrhosis of the liver and primary liver cancer. A small percentage of adults who get hepatitis B never fully recover and remain chronically infected. In addition, infected individuals can spread the virus to others through contact with their blood and other body fluids.
An employer must develop an exposure control plan and implement use of universal precautions and control measures, such as engineering controls, work practice controls, and personal protective equipment to protect all workers with occupational exposure. In addition, employers must make hepatitis B vaccination available to these workers. Hepatitis B vaccination is recognized as an effective defense against HBV infection.
The standard requires employers to offer the vaccination series to all workers who have occupational exposure. Examples of workers who may have occupational exposure include, but are not limited to, healthcare workers, emergency responders, morticians, first-aid personnel, correctional officers and laundry workers in hospitals and commercial laundries that service healthcare or public safety institutions. The vaccine and vaccination must be offered at no cost to the worker and at a reasonable time and place.
The hepatitis B vaccination is a non-infectious, vaccine prepared from recombinant yeast cultures, rather than human blood or plasma. There is no risk of contamination from other bloodborne pathogens nor is there any chance of developing HBV from the vaccine.
The vaccine must be administered according to the recommendations of the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS) current at the time the procedure takes place. To ensure immunity, it is important for individuals to complete the entire course of vaccination contained in the USPHS recommendations.
The great majority of those vaccinated will develop immunity to the hepatitis B virus. The vaccine causes no harm to those who are already immune or to those who may be HBV carriers. Although workers may desire to have their blood tested for antibodies to see if vaccination is needed, employers cannot make such screening a condition of receiving vaccination and employers are not required to provide prescreening.