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While nurses need to know how to care for patients who have hepatitis, they must know about hepatitis transmission and take action to protect themselves from hepatitis at work as well. There are several types, including hepatitis A (HAV), B (HBV), C (HCV), D (HDV), and E (HEV). Nurses have a higher exposure to hepatitis—particularly HBV—due to their line of work.
Recent research shows that some (but not all) nurses have knowledge about the mode of transmission as well as an effective prevention strategy. With World Hepatitis Day approaching (July 28), it’s a good time for all nurses to take action to educate and protect themselves. Since hepatitis can cause serious harm to the liver and is the most important etiology of liver cancer, the importance of timely prevention among nurses cannot be overemphasized.
Here are a few of the most important things to know about hepatitis when working as a nurse:
Mode of Transmission
- HAV is usually caused by consuming contaminated food or water, fecal-oral pathway, and oral-anal sexual contact.
- HBV is caused by contact with contaminated blood or other body fluids. The factors found to be significantly related with blood-borne hepatitis are needle-stick injury, attempted recapping of needles, or use of hollow-bore needles.
- HCV is the most common cause of chronic viral hepatitis in the United States and is caused by contact with contaminated blood or other body fluids.
- HDV is also caused by contact with contaminated blood or other body fluids.
- HEV is caused by consuming contaminated food or water and fecal-oral pathway like HAV.
When caring for a patient with hepatitis, preventing transmission to yourself and other patients is of the utmost importance. Here are four key prevention strategies you can to take:
1. Practice universal precautions at all times.
This approach to infection control recommends that you to treat all blood and bodily fluids as if they were infected and avoid direct contact. Always wear gloves if you need to draw blood or perform wound care. If the blood or body fluid spills onto the floor or another surface, it is important to have it cleaned immediately as the virus can survive in dried blood for up to 4 days. Make sure to dispose all items properly before coming into contact with other patients.
2. Practice good personal hygiene.
Practice good personal hygiene through hand washing, as good sanitation can help prevent a hepatitis infection. Always wash hands and use hand sanitizing gel before and after providing care to each patient.
3. Get vaccinated.
Both HAV and HBV can be prevented through a combination vaccine.
4. Follow your hospital’s protocol when caring for patients.
Make sure to refresh or update yourself about the hospital policies and guidelines when you care for infected patients or have potential contact with their blood or bodily fluids.
Mary Wiske, RN, is a retired community health nurse.