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Biological hazards

Biological agents are living things, or products of living things, that can cause illness and disease in humans. Biological agents include viruses, bacteria and fungi, as well as parasitic worms and some plants.

Biological agents enter the body when they are inhaled, eaten (ingested) or absorbed. Most biological agents are inhaled. Once inside the body, these infectious agents can multiply quickly and may be passed from one person to another. Some can survive outside the body for a quite a long time if they have the right breeding ground, such as water or food. Others die quickly without the protection of the body.

Some infectious agents are transmitted directly:
through physical contact between an infected and non-infected person
when droplets are projected, by a cough or a sneeze, into the mucous membranes of another person’s nose, eyes or mouth
when a person is injected or punctured by an infected object, such as a needle

Other infectious agents are transmitted indirectly:
by attaching themselves to food, water, cooking or eating utensils
when an insect carries them from an infected to a non-infected person
through the air, where they can be inhaled

Health effects of biological hazards
Biological agents that are capable of causing disease are known as pathogens. People who work with animals or plants, or in health and child care are most at risk for biological hazards. People who work with ventilation systems, municipal sanitation or sewage operations are also at increased risk.

Common diseases caused by biological agents:
bacterial diseases, such as tuberculosis, tetanus, food poisoning and blood poisoning
fungal diseases, such as ringworm and thrush
viral diseases, such as mumps, hepatitis, German measles, West Nile Virus
parasitic worms that enter the body when their eggs are ingested

Controlling biological hazards
The best way to prevent illness is to reduce or eliminate exposure to biological agents. Here are some tips to protect yourself against infection:

Practice good personal hygiene (e.g. regular hand washing) – it’s one of the best ways to prevent the transmission of infection.
Keep your immunizations up-to-date.
Ensure that any equipment that might harbour bio-hazards (e.g. fans, ventilation systems) is regularly maintained, cleaned and sterilized.
Clean and disinfect work surfaces often.
Clean up spills immediately.
Handle and dispose of all bio-hazardous waste materials safely. Blood and any other bodily fluids should always be handled as if they could be infectious. In the event of an injury or bleeding, every individual should be handled in a way that minimizes exposure to blood and body fluids.
Wear personal protective equipment (e.g. gloves, masks), where appropriate.

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Learn more about the Peel board’s policy on handling blood and bodily fluids

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