First responders are at higher risk for exposure to hepatitis viruses and there are many reports of viral hepatitis being contracted from accidental needle sticks, CPR and contact with bodily fluids during medical calls or through violence. It is important for fire, EMS and law enforcement personnel to know the risks, symptoms and how to protect themselves from exposure.
Hepatitis is most often caused by a virus and results in inflammation of the liver. Symptoms include jaundice, fatigue, dark yellow urine, fever, loss of appetite, gastrointestinal distress, and abdominal pain. There are five identified types of viral hepatitis classified by letters A-D. Only hepatitis A, B and C are common in the United States, and only strains A and B have vaccines. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has detailed information on the different strains.
Because of the high risk of occupational exposure, many departments or jurisdictions are opting to offer vaccinations to first responders, but preventing exposure is the first step to protecting yourself. Ways to limit your risk:
- Use proper personal protective equipment, such as gloves, masks and goggles that help block possible means of exposure.
- Dispose of soiled personal protective equipment properly.
- Wash hands thoroughly and regularly.
You should consider getting vaccines for hepatitis A and B whether your employer provides them or not. The International Association of Fire Fighters has informational pages on hepatitis A, B and C, as well as several other diseases first responders are at higher risk for, on its Infectious Diseases Resource website.