What are blood-borne viruses

What are blood-borne viruses

Blood-borne viruses (BBVs) are viruses that some people carry in their blood and can be spread from one person to another. Those infected with a BBV may show little or no symptoms of serious disease, but other infected people may be severely ill. You can become infected with a virus whether the person who infects you appears to be ill or not – indeed, they may be unaware they are ill as some persistent viral infections do not cause symptoms. An infected person can transmit (spread) blood-borne viruses from one person to another by various routes and over a prolonged time period.

The most prevalent BBVs are

human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)- a virus which causes accuired immunodeficiency virus (AIDS), a disease affecting the body’s immune system

hepatitis B (HBV) and hepatitis C; BBVs causing hepatitis, a disease affecting the liver

As well as through blood, these viruses can also be found and transmitted through other body fluids, for example

vaginal secretions

semen; and

breast milk

Unless contaminated with blood, minimal risk of BBV infection is carried by

  • urine
  • saliva
  • sweat
  • tears
  • sputum
  • vomit; and  faeces

The presence of blood in these bodily fluids and materials isn’t always obvious, so care should still always be taken to avoid infection.

Further details

Blood-borne viruses that cause hepatitis include the hepatitis B virus (HBV) and hepatitis C virus (HCV). Other viruses that cause hepatitis (such as hepatitis A and E) are not usually passed on by blood-to-blood contact and hence do not present a significant risk of blood-borne infection. The hepatitis D virus, previously known as the ‘delta agent’, is a defective virus, which can only infect and replicate in the presence of HBV.


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