Variation in interpretation and counselling of blood exposure incidents by different medical practitioners

Paul Th L van Wijk, Marianne Pelk-Jongen, Clementine Wijkmans, Andreas Voss, Aura Timen, Peter M Schneeberger

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


BACKGROUND: Blood exposure incidents pose a risk for transmission of bloodborne pathogens for both health care workers and public health. Despite several national and international guidelines, counsellors have often different opinions about the risks caused by these incidents. Little is known about the consequences of these variations in risk assessment on the effectiveness of the treatment and the costs for the health care system.

METHODS: The aim of this study was to reveal differences among diverse groups of counsellors in assessing the same blood exposure incidents. Subjects included 4 different kinds of counsellors: public health physicians from infectious disease departments and medical microbiologists, occupational health practitioners, and HIV/AIDS specialists from hospital settings. Surveys with cases of blood exposure incidents were sent to the counsellors in The Netherlands asking questions about their risk assessment and consequent treatment. Questions were categorized for hepatitis B virus (HBV), hepatitis C virus (HCV), and HIV risks.

RESULTS: Of the 449 surveys sent, 178 were returned, of which 158 were eligible for the study. In general, occupational health practitioners and medical microbiologists showed a more rigorous approach especially with regard to prophylactic treatment when counselling HBV risk situations, whereas public health physicians and HIV/AIDS specialists were more thorough in the handling of HCV risk accidents. In HIV counselling, HIV/AIDS specialists were far more rigorous in their treatment than the other groups. For 7 of the total of 12 cases, the risk assessment with regard to HBV, HCV, and HIV differed significantly.

CONCLUSION: The assessment of blood exposures significantly differs depending on the medical background of the counsellor handling the incident, leading to remarkable inconsistencies in the response to prevent the transmission of bloodborne pathogens and/or to increased costs for unnecessary diagnostic tests and preventive measures. Although national guidelines for the counselling and treatment of blood exposure incidents are essential, the assessment of blood exposure incidents should be limited to as few as possible, well-trained professionals, operating in regional or national call centers, to ensure comparable assessment and corresponding application of preventive measures for all victims.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)123-8
Number of pages6
JournalAmerican Journal of Infection Control
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Accidents
  • Blood-Borne Pathogens
  • Counseling
  • HIV Infections/prevention & control
  • Health Services/standards
  • Health Services Research
  • Hepatitis B/prevention & control
  • Hepatitis C/prevention & control
  • Humans
  • Occupational Exposure
  • Risk Assessment
  • Surveys and Questionnaires


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