Universal precautions

Key points

  • “Universal Precautions” are a series of infection control strategies used to prevent the transmission of infectious diseases.
  • The basis of these practices is that healthcare workers and service providers should act as though all blood and other body liquids are potentially infectious, regardless of the source.
  • There are strategies that service providers can use when coming into contact with body fluids that can help avoid accidental exposures to hepatitis C and other blood-borne illnesses.

The term “Universal Precautions” describes a series of infection control strategies that are used by healthcare workers (or any person who comes in contact with body liquids) to protect both themselves and their clients from exposure to infectious diseases.

Universal Precautions are applied when there is a possibility that certain types of body liquids may be present. These include blood, cerebrospinal fluid (liquid around the brain and spinal cord), pleural fluid (liquid from the membranes around the lungs) and amniotic fluid (liquid that forms a protective cushion around a fetus). Universal Precautions are regulated across Canada. There may be some additional infection control guidelines that vary regionally.

Universal Precautions do not include strategies used when other types of body substances are present, such as urine, vomit, feces and spit. Other strategies and guidelines cover these types of body substances.

The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) advises healthcare workers to act as though all blood and other body fluids are potentially infectious. It is also recommended that service providers report any potential exposures to blood and other body fluids (such as needle-stick injuries) to a supervisor or manager immediately.

Practices to prevent hepatitis C transmission

The hepatitis C virus can survive outside the body, in open air, for at least four days. In certain conditions, such as inside a syringe, the virus can survive for many weeks. The Canadian Public Health Association (CPHA) recommends the following precautions to help prevent passing of blood-borne infections like hepatitis C:

  • Cover cuts: Open sores or cuts should be covered with a plastic bandage.
  • Wear gloves: Latex gloves can be worn as a physical barrier when there is a potential risk of coming in contact with body fluids, such as blood. New, undamaged gloves should be used each time and disposed of in a plastic garbage bag.
  • Wash hands: The CPHA recommends washing hands with soap and hot water for at least 20 seconds after exposure to blood or other body fluids, after using the washroom, before preparing or eating food and after using latex gloves.
  • Discard garbage: Garbage and waste should be disposed of with caution in case the garbage contains materials that have come in contact with body fluids or blood (e.g., used needles).
  • Wash clothes: Soiled clothes should be stored in sealed plastic bags, and they should be washed and dried separately using hot temperatures.
  • Clean up: When there is a spill of blood or another body fluid, latex gloves should be used during cleanup. The CPHA recommends cleaning up the spill with a fresh mixture of 1 part household bleach and 9 parts water.

Resources for service providers