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What are the jobs causing Hepatitis B infections in healthcare workers?

Certain jobs put the health of workers at risk in ways most people may not even consider. While the concept of a risky job involving physical labor or hazardous materials is familiar to us all, there are other types of jobs where exposure to disease is as vital a concern as an accident involving heavy equipment.

Incidence rates of hepatitis B infection
Incidence rates of hepatitis B infection per 100,000 U.S. health care workers, 1993-19991.

This chart from NIOSH illustrates how healthcare workers in particular face a constant threat from hepatitis B. This infection is transmitted via blood or other bodily fluids which may have come into contact with the blood of a disease carrier. Healthcare workers are particularly vulnerable to acquiring this disease as a result of accidental needle pricks or the mishandling of medical waste. Hepatitis B attacks the liver and in the worst cases causes liver failure which can result in death. More commonly, those infected with the disease suffer from chronic symptoms which are not life threatening but which lower their overall quality of life. While containment of the disease has improved throughout the past two decades, it remains a constant specter haunting hospitals and clinics.

In general, aside from vaccinations to help prevent the spread of the disease, there are no treatments recommended for those who have become infected, as the body itself usually takes care of the infection. However, those who suffer from chronic hepatitis are usually put on a course of antiviral drugs in order to lower the viral load in the blood stream. Not all people react well to vaccination, and there have been cases where traumatic brain injury may be linked to certain types of hepatitis B vaccine. Healthcare workers have also been known to occasionally infect other patients with this and other diseases as a result of negligent hygiene policies at a health care facility2.

1NIOSH 2004. Worker Health Chartbook 2004, NIOSH Publication No. 2004-146. Retrieved October 27, 2008 from http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2004-146/detail/imagedetail.asp@imgid53.htm
2Anapol Schwartz, n.d.. Do you have a group B strep / streptococcus (GBS) medical malpractice lawsuit? Retrieved October 23, 2008 from http://www.anapolschwartz.com/practices/medical-malpractice/group-b-strep/bgroup-case.asp

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