The Biological Risks of Being a Law Enforcement Officer

While arresting suspects, investigating crimes, conducting searches, or taking samples, police can be exposed to a staggering number of pathogens.

Hepatitis B Virus (HVC): Previously officers had an increased risk of contracting Hepatitis B than the general population. However, a person who has received the hepatitis B vaccine and has developed immunity to the virus is at virtually no risk for infection.

According to the National Criminal Justice Reference Service (NCJRS), the diseases that should most concern law enforcement are those that are spread by casual contact between individuals, such as the flu or measles. If there is an outbreak in the community, officers will be exposed repeatedly.

Additionally, there is a staggering list of other communicable diseases to be aware of including: amebiasis, Anthrax, chickenpox, the common cold, croup, diarrhea, diphtheria, E. Coli, Genital warts (at least 75% of sexually active adults have been infected with at least one type of genital HPV at some time in their life) German measles, Giardiasis, group B streptococcal disease, hepatitis (A-G), herpes, influenza, intestinal roundworms, legionellosis, lyme, malaria, measles, meningitis (bacterial and viral), mononucleosis, MRSA, mumps, pertussis, pinworm infection, pneumonia, polio, rabies, ringworm, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, rotavirus infection, rubella, rubeola, salmonellosis, scabies, scarlet fever, tetanus, tuberculosis, typhoid, West Nile fever, whooping cough and yellow fever.

Prevention of Contagious Diseases

If there is a vaccination for a contagious life threatening disease, like Hepatitis B, get it. There are also many other vaccinations available for officers living in areas which have the potential for outbreaks of certain contagious diseases (tetanus, diphtheria, whooping cough, Hepatitis A, etc). Be alert for announcements from the CDC and local public health departments.

Remember your training related to searches:

  • Be aware of any open cuts or abrasions on your skin
  • Never put your hands where your eyes can’t see
  • Ask an arrestee if there are sharp objects on his/her person. If feasible ask them to empty their pockets and turn them inside out to expose the lining
  • Use extreme caution when searching an arrestee’s clothing or possessions
  • Wear protective gloves if exposure to blood or body fluids is likely


Personal protective equipment (PPE)

PPE should be planned for and acquired well before a pandemic or other outbreak occurs.

The three main classes of PPE that should be made available to law enforcement are:

  1. hand sanitation (hand washing, alcohol gels, antibacterial wipes)
  2. protection against blood and body fluids (antimicrobial gloves, gowns, masks, goggles)
  3. respiratory protection (including respirators that have been fit tested)


Body Fluid Exposure: What to do

If blood or a body fluid has splashed onto skin, into the eyes, nose, or mouth; wash the skin with soap and water or rinse the eyes/mouth/nose with tap water for 15 minutes.

If you have a needle stick or laceration, the first thing to do is to clean the wound with soap and water. Then apply direct pressure to stop the bleeding if needed.

According to the CDC, if you experienced a needle stick or other sharp object injury, or were exposed to the blood or other body fluid of a patient during the course of your work, immediately follow these steps:

  • Wash needle sticks and cuts with soap and water.
  • Flush splashes to the nose, mouth, or skin with water
  • Irrigate eyes with clean water, saline, or sterile irrigants
  • Report the incident to your supervisor
  • Immediately seek medical treatment


The Realities of Influenza (the Flu)

It is not too late to get vaccinated, and almost everyone reading this article should do so. Although October through December are the recommended months for vaccination, since that's when viruses begin to circulate, a flu shot later in the winter can still help protect you, your loved ones, partners and unsuspecting civilians from the flu. Each year's seasonal flu vaccine contains protection from the three influenza viruses that are expected to be the most common during that year's flu season. The vaccine is typically available as an injection or as a nasal spray.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 35-50 million Americans come down with the flu during each flu season; more than 100,000 people are hospitalized and about 36,000 people die from the flu and its complications every year.

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