What Are Universal Precautions?
Working in the healthcare industry exposes individuals to diseases and infections that can be transmitted from one person to another. Universal Precautions were guidelines developed regarding infection control that were designed to protect healthcare workers from diseases that are spread through blood and various body fluids. These were applied to the workplace when workers were exposed to blood and certain types of bodily fluids.
The practice of Universal Precautions was introduced between 1985 and 1988, after the outbreak of AIDS. It assumed that all patients were potential carriers of bloodborne pathogens like hepatitis B and AIDS. The guidelines recommended that healthcare practitioners wear nonporous items like goggles, face shields, and sterile gloves whenever collecting or handling blood or blood-contaminated body fluids. Fluids that may contain blood include vaginal secretions, semen, and amniotic fluid.
Universal Precautions did not apply to fluids like nasal secretions, feces, sweat, sputum, tears, vomit, and urine. Saliva did not fall under the guidelines unless the practitioner worked in a dental setting, where saliva is often contaminated with blood. When a practitioner had difficulty identifying the body fluid, it was recommended that these guidelines be followed. They were designed for nurses, doctors, health care support workers, and even patients. Included were staff who may not have had direct patient contact.
Also included in the guidelines were recommendations for good hygiene, like regular and thorough hand washing. Scalpels and hypodermic needles were subject to certain handling and disposal techniques, and aseptic techniques were also included. With patients suspected or known to have infectious conditions, additional precautions were taken. These patients included those with prion diseases and diseases with droplet transmission such as rubella, mumps, pertussis, and influenza.
Protective eyewear took the form of goggles or glasses and face shields provided full-face protection. Disposable barrier gowns provided the individual with protection against splashes and gloves kept the hands protected when exposed to blood or bodily fluid. Sterile gloves were designed for examination or surgical purposes and some were hand-specific and featured gripping material.
In the United States, universal precautions were adjusted in 1987 by body substance isolation rules. In the year 1996, both guidelines were replaced by standard precautions in healthcare and protective clothing has adapted to the changes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention makes the 2007 Guideline for Isolation Precautions available on its Web site. This 225-page document pertains to preventing the transmission of infectious agents within healthcare settings.