Transmission of Infectious Diseases to You and Your Staff



Health care workers are occupationally exposed to a variety of diseases during their work day, including from needlestick injuries, back injuries, violence, and infectious diseases. 


How are infectious diseases transmitted in my practice?


There are three primary routes of disease transmission: contact, droplet, and airborne.

  • Contact: Contact includes direct skin to skin contact with an infected individual, as well as indirect contact with contaminated items and surfaces, such as door knobs and instruments.

    • Examples of transmissible agents through contact includes Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and Vancomycin-resistant enterococcus (VRE)

  • Droplet: Droplet refers to when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or even talks. This transmission occurs when those droplets come in contact with mucosal surfaces of the eyes, nose, or mouth.

    • Examples of droplet transmissible agents include the seasonal flu and Bordetella pertussis (whooping cough)

  • Airborne: Particles that contain infectious agents can remain suspended in the air for extended periods of time.Airborne transmission occurs when these infectious agents are inhaled and enter the respiratory tract causing an infection.Air currents can disperse these particles over long distances, so transmission does not need to be face-to-face.

    • Examples of airborne transmissible agents include Mycobacterium tuberculosis (TB) and rubella virus (measles)



How can I protect my employees from infectious diseases?


Working in health care puts your employees at risk for any of the three routes of disease transmission above.  There is a reason that authorities such as OSHA put their standards in place – to protect your workers from hazards such as these.


OSHA has several standards in place that are directly applicable to protecting workers against transmission of infectious agents.  These include the Bloodborne Pathogens Standard, the Personal Protective Equipment Standard, and the Respiratory Protection Standard.  This also includes OSHA’s TB compliance directive, which protects workers against exposure to TB through enforcement of existing applicable standards and the General Duty Clause.


Health care facilities should follow these Standards to provide protection to their employees from infectious diseases.


There are also several helpful guidelines published from the CDC that health care facilities may use as resources.  The CDC and OSHA work closely together, however it is important to remember that the CDC provides recommendations and guidance, and that OSHA is law.





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