The EMT may come into contact with patients who have communicable diseases (infectious diseases) which are diseases that can be passed on to (communicated) other persons. When a patient suspects an infectious disease is present, the treatment priorities do not change but, the EMT must take additional precautions to protect themselves. The EMT must be familiar with body substance isolation (BSI), know about common infectious diseases, current Safety & Occupational Health Administration (OSHA) and Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines for dealing with bloodborne pathogens, and knowing the methods for personal protection from bloodborne and airborne pathogens.


Bloodborne pathogens are microorganisms, like viruses and bacteria, that can cause disease. Blood is not the only body fluid or substance that can carry the organisms that result in communicable diseases. The EMT should consider ANY substance from the body (blood, urine, feces, tears, saliva, spinal fluid, etc.) as being potentially dangerous. EMTs should wear protective devices while performing patient care. Below is the recommended protective devices that should be worn with various prehospital tasks:

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Common Infectious Diseases

Infectious diseases are caused by microorgansims in the body such as viruses, bacteria, or fungi. Most are not life threatening but, AIDS and hepatitis are. Communicable diseases may be spread by:

1. Direct contact - touching an infected patient or infected body fluid. This may be through a handshake, kissing, or sexual intercourse.

2. Inhaling droplets - breathing in infected moisture that a patient exhales or coughs out.

3. Contaminated needle puncture - getting punctured by a "dirty" needle that has been used to inject an infected patient with or a needle used to inject drugs by the infected patient.

4. Bites - bites from animals or humans can cause severe infections if the skin is broken.

5. Blood transfusions - transfusions performed in the prehospital setting may put the EMT at risk through blood from the infected patient coming in contact with an open wound on the EMT or by a needle puncture during preparation of the transfusion.

6. Contaminated materials - hankerchiefs, washcloths, towels, sheets, or used wound-dressings are a source of infection for the EMT.

    Below is a chart on communicable diseases encountered in the prehospital setting:

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 In order to ensure a safe working environment, the EMT do must:

  • remove gloves and jewelry and wash hands thoroughly for 30 seconds after each patient contact.
  • wipe down the floor, walls, and stretcher at least once a day with a 1:10 mixture of household bleach and water or a commercial cleaning solution.
  • wipe down frequently used items such as radios, stethoscopes, monitors, and oxygen tanks.
  • lace contaminated trash and linens in the appropriate containers.

When body fluids have spilled on ambulance surfaces or equipment, the following actions should be taken while wearing gloves and eye protection:

  • clean up the spill by absorbing the spill with disposable paper towels or linen and clean the area with the 1:10 mixture of bleach and water (or commercial cleaning solution). 
  • dispose of sharp items such as needles in approved containers.
  • clean suction equipment that has been used according to manufacturer's recommendations.
  • discard disposable respiratory equipment and clean the nondisposable parts.
  • scrub backboards, straps, cervical spine immobilization devices with hot, soapy water and rinse well with plain water, allowing them to thoroughly dry.
  • he pneumatic antishock garment (PASG) should be cleaned according to manufacturer's recommendations.
  • Personal protection for the EMT begins with handwashing. The EMT should wash their hands before and after coming in contact with each patient. Below is a checklist for proper handwashing technique:


HANDWASHING EVALUATION            Name: ____________

                                                                                                      Period: ____________

                                                                                                      Date: _____________

 1. Assemble equipment.

 2. Remove watch and rings.

 3. Roll up sleeves.

 4. Use a dry paper towel to turn on faucet.

 5. Adjust water flow and temperature.

 6. Wet hands and distal forearms. Keep fingers pointing downward.

 7. Dispense soap into hands and work into a lather using palms of hands. 

 8. Scrub palms.

 9. Scrub tops of hands.

 10. Scrub sides of hands and fingers.

 11. Interlace fingers to wash between fingers.

 12. Clean nails with small brush and blunt orange stick.

 13. Rinse hands and forearms with fingertips pointed down.

 14. Dries hands and forearms thoroughly.

 15. Place towels in waste receptacle.

 16. Turn faucet off with dry towel.

 17. Leaves area neat and clean.

 18. Wash hands before and after every procedure.

 19. Wash hands when contaminated.

 20. Wash hands the appropriate amount of time.

TOTAL SCORE: _____ / 20

BSI can also be accomplished with the use of eye protection, disposable gloves, gowns, and face masks. If a patient is known or suspected to have tuberculosis (TB), a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) respirator should be worn by the EMT. Some resuscitation equipment that utilize disposable devices should be used once and then discarded. These devices minimize the need for mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. States differ in their laws regarding the EMT's right to know versus the patients right to privacy regarding disclosing communicable diseases. The EMT is responsible to learn their state's regulation and laws regarding this matter in their state and any modifications made to the law.

Review Questions:

1. List two situations in which the chances of being exposed to pathogens are high.

2. Name two types of equipment that can help protect the EMT from communicable disease exposure.

3. Name three ways that communicable diseases are transmitted.

4. Name two common childhood diseases that can present a risk of exposure to the EMT.

5. Name three other serious communicable diseases that can present a risk of exposure to the EMT.

6. Name a sexually transmitted disease (STD) that can present a risk of exposure to the EMT.

7. What common types of liquids or solutions are most often used to clean ambulances, equipment, and other devices used by an EMT?