Skip to main content

Body Substance Exposure

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Oct 31, 2022.

What is body substance exposure?

Body substance exposure is when you come in contact with another person's blood or body fluid that contains blood. Contact may place you at risk for hepatitis B virus (HBV), human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), or hepatitis C virus (HCV). Semen or vaginal fluid can also spread infection.

How can body substance exposure occur?

  • A needle stick or a cut from a sharp object
  • Contact with an open wound, such as a cut, chapped skin, or an abrasion
  • Contact with the eyes or mucus membrane, such as the lining of the mouth or nose
  • Human bite

What should I do if I have been exposed to a body substance?

  • Clean the area immediately. Wash an open wound with soap and clean water. Flush your eyes with saline solution or water. Rinse mucus membranes with water or saline solution.
  • Contact your healthcare provider as soon as possible. The provider will ask how the exposure happened and where the blood or body fluid touched your body. If possible, tell the provider about the person's health status and history, such as vaccinations. Treatment works best if started as soon as possible.

What treatment may be given for body substance exposure?

Postexposure prophylaxis (PEP) is treatment that may protect a person from infection after exposure to another person's body fluids. PEP may be needed if the person whose fluids you were exposed to has a known infection. Do not donate blood, organs, tissues, or semen until your follow-up is completed at 6 months.

  • PEP for HBV may include HBV vaccinations or medicine to prevent HBV. This treatment works best if started within 24 hours of exposure.
  • PEP for HIV may include 2 or 3 types of medicine to prevent HIV. This treatment works best if started within 72 hours of exposure. Continue treatment for 4 weeks. Practice safe sex to prevent spreading HIV and to prevent pregnancy during the follow-up period. If you are breastfeeding, your healthcare provider may recommend that you stop. Ask your healthcare provider if you can breastfeed.
  • PEP for HCV is not available. You will need to be tested for HCV and treated if you were infected.

When should I follow up with my healthcare provider?

You will need to follow up with your provider for more blood tests. PEP for HIV often causes side effects. Talk with your provider about your symptoms. Your provider will need to make sure you are taking the medicine correctly. Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.

How can I help prevent body substance exposure?

If you care for another person who has HBV, HIV, or HCV, protect yourself and others from infection:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly before and after you provide medical care.
  • Use protective equipment. Gloves or a face mask may protect your hands, nose, and mouth from splashes of blood or body fluid.
  • Do not recap needles after use. Recapping needles increases your risk of a needle stick.
  • Throw away needles in a safe container. A hard container with a lid may prevent accidental needle sticks.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have a fever.
  • You have a rash.
  • You have weakness or muscle pain.
  • You have abdominal pain, nausea, or vomiting.
  • You have diarrhea.
  • You have a headache.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© Copyright IBM Corporation 2022 Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or IBM Watson Health

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.