Blood and Guts – How Germs Can Spread from Your Blood and Gastrointestinal System

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Two reservoirs where germs can live and thrive in the human body are your blood and gastrointestinal (GI) system.

When germs spread from these reservoirs in or outside your body, it can cause harm and make you or others sick.

What is the Gastrointestinal System?

The gastrointestinal system or “the gut” usually refers to the lower intestine, rectum, and anus. It is part of the digestive system.

The upper GI tract, which includes the mouth, esophagus, and stomach, is also part of the digestive system. It has different types of bacteria and fungi that we usually think about separately from the gut.

The intestines are filled with bacteria and some yeasts that are an important part of a healthy immune system.

Most gut bacteria don’t cause problems in healthy people, but some germs can, such as Escherichia coli (E. coli), Klebsiella, and Proteus.

When Germs Spread from the GI System

Because germs live in the intestines, they’re in our feces, or our “stool.”

Germs in our stool travel easily from the gut to other places. It’s common to find germs from our stool in places outside of the gut, especially the skin around the groin, the hands, and the environment – like surfaces in bathrooms.

Because everyone goes to the bathroom, the germs in stool can spread onto our hands and skin when we wipe or change a diaper.

If we don’t properly wash our hands, the germs can spread to other body reservoirs, the environment, and other people, potentially making them sick.

These germs can also spread in ways we may not think about, like flushing toilets.

Germs Can Spread from Your Blood

Unlike other parts of the body, blood is not supposed to have germs at all.

However, some viruses are “bloodborne” and can get into your blood. When this happens, the virus can cause an infection and spread to other people.

Some examples of bloodborne viruses are HIV, Hepatitis B, and Hepatitis C.germs spread from blood

The most common way that bloodborne viruses spread in healthcare is when an infected person’s blood is on a sharp item that causes a break in someone else’s skin, such as a needlestick. When this happens, the infected blood can enter the body, causing a new infection.

Additionally, if a needle or syringe is reused on more than one patient, or a vial of medication gets contaminated with blood, germs in one person’s blood could spread to another.

Skin that is cut or damaged in other ways, like from eczema, is also vulnerable to bloodborne viruses.

What Can You Do to Promote Infection Control in Your Healthcare Setting?

It is important to protect yourself, patients, and colleagues from germs that can spread from the GI system and blood.

Remember to properly clean your hands and wear appropriate PPE, such as gloves.

Access more information about infection prevention and control in healthcare by visiting resources from CDC Project Firstline.

Project Firstline creates resources, including videos and shareable images, web buttons, posters, and print materials. They also have facilitator toolkits to help workers lead trainings even if they are not an infection control expert.

Salud America! at UT Health San Antonio is working with the National Hispanic Medical Association to bring Project Firstline infection control educational content to healthcare workers, so they are equipped with the knowledge they need to protect themselves, their facilities, and their patients (Latinos and all communities) from infectious disease threats in healthcare settings.

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“Healthcare teams in hospitals, nursing homes, and other care settings are the front lines against the spread of infection,” said Dr. Amelie G. Ramirez, director of Salud America! at UT Health San Antonio. “CDC’s Project Firstline is bolstering those efforts by developing evidence-based tools that can be delivered in a variety of ways to make infection control learning convenient and accessible for busy healthcare staff.”

Learn More about Project Firstline!

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