How to Stay Safe From Pathogens When Performing CPR

How to stay safe from pathogens when preforming CPR

Following exhaustive scientific research and AHA’s updated CPR guidelines, the survival rate of cardiac arrest cases outside the hospital has nearly doubled since 2000. And with cardiovascular deaths rising during pandemics, it’s only natural that those trying to contribute to the increased survival rate would be worried about transmitting pathogens while providing CPR.

Even though the need to help out others is strong in humans, it’s immensely important to ensure your own safety first and do infection control…The person in need may be ill and carry easily transmittable pathogens, such as bacteria, viruses, or other pathogens.

So how do you save a life, be a hero, and stay safe when performing CPR all at the same time? We’ll go over what pathogens are, how they spread, and the difference between standard and transmission-based precautions.

What are Pathogens, and How Do They Spread?

According to biology, a pathogen is any organism or agent that has the potential to cause disease. There are many types of pathogenic organisms, and these are some of the basic categories: bacteria, fungi, viruses, worms, and parasites like protozoa.

Our bodies are full of microbes and bacteria, but these organisms only become an issue if our immune system is compromised. The pathogens may enter your body, find a host in a weakened body part, and start to grow and replicate.

Different pathogens are spread in different ways, depending on their type. The pathogens can be transmitted via airborne particles, skin-to-skin contact, body fluids, excrement, or by touching a surface that has been previously touched by an infected person. That is why infection control should be practiced in our everyday life by maintaining good hand hygiene and respiratory hygiene.

But how to stay safe from pathogens when performing CPR to save a life?

How to Protect Yourself from Pathogens When Performing CPR?

CPR saves lives, so it’s very noble and useful for every individual to know how to perform basic CPR practice. A person might need CPR due to a cardiac arrest, a car accident, a drowning, or an overdose.

But how to act on it if the person who is in trouble is ill? To be able to help others, you first need to guarantee your safety and implement infection control.

Disease transmission when performing CPR can be caused by airborne infection, droplets, direct or indirect contact, or hematogenous transmission. There are two sets of safety precautions: standard precautions and transmission-based precautions.

Standard Precautions

The standard precautions are a combination of the universal precautions and the isolation precautions. These precautions include detailed and complex methods to protect the victims or patients and also the medical staff of the person assisting the person in need.

The infection control by the standard precautions relies on the concept that all body fluids, such as blood, secretions, and excretions from different body parts like saliva or mucus (except for sweat), might carry a pathogen infection. Also, injured skin or a mucous membrane is a medium for infection transmission. When dealing with this type of situation, always assume that you’re dealing with an infected person. This will motivate you to stick to the safety precautions at every resuscitation stage.

There are two basic ways to protect yourself from pathogens when giving CPR. However, the two are not mutually exclusive, and both should be practiced together to keep yourself healthy while performing CPR. The first is the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) for infection control when performing CPR, and the second is to always make sure your hygiene is on a satisfactory level. Let’s go over each one in detail.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) is always recommended when giving CPR. Using a medical protective mask, such as N95, face shield, gloves, surgical gown, or eye protection goggles will keep you safe when performing ventilation or intubation. When giving CPR, you should use a mask that comes with a one-way valve in order to keep yourself contact-free from a potential infection transmission of pathogens and body fluids.

Practicing Hygiene

The second segment regarding staying safe when performing CPR and ventilation or intubation is practicing hand hygiene by washing your hands or using a hand sanitizer before and after performing the procedure.

Transmission-based Precautions

The transmission-based precautions add an extra layer to the standard precautions. They include:


      • Contact precautions are made to protect you from direct or indirect contact infection transmutations. If you are dealing with a situation that requires contact precautions, wash or disinfect your hands before and after CPR. The use of gloves and a gown is mandatory, while other PPE is advisable. Finally, make sure you dispose of all PPE safely after finishing the procedure.


        • Droplet precautions are made to prevent the transmission of infections through droplets while talking, coughing, or sneezing. Droplet precautions require the mandatory use of a face mask and practicing hand hygiene before and after for infection control. Do not reuse face masks, and do dispose of PPE safely.


          • Airborne precautions are measures set to prevent infection transmission via very small pathogens traveling through the air. These may include aerosol-generating procedures (AGPs), which are medical procedures that cause respiratory tract aerosols to be released. The airborne precautions measures require using an N95 particulate respirator or an air-purifying powered respirator.

        All of these can be controlled by wearing proper personal protective equipment (PPE) for infection control during CPR.

        Tips on How to Perform CPR and Do It Safely

        While some diseases are not as easily transmittable, some, such as the influenza flu or Covid-19, are highly infectious. Other diseases that might be spread by saliva or mouth-to-mouth contact are: mononucleosis, some gum diseases, meningitis, rubella, etc. 

        To perform CPR, start by checking if it is safe for you and make sure you use PPE. CPR mouth-to-mouth activity creates a contact through which an infection can be transmitted from one person to the other.

        The guidelines regarding CPR and PPE are clearer for medical staff and encourage professionals to always use PPE. However, it is also important that they have everything prepared to be able to proceed with CPR as soon as possible.

        If you decide to perform CPR even if not part of the medical staff, here are some useful tips on how to do so safely:


            • While giving CPR, do handle any spills of blood or other bodily fluids as if they were infectious.

            • Use a CPR mask if available to make a physical barrier. In most cases, you’d need to perform hands-only CPR because it’s not recommended for untrained bystanders to give breaths. However, there are still cases where the victim may require mouth-to-mouth, such as near-drownings or respiratory problems in children.

            • Make sure you use good quality medical personal protection equipment (PPE) and ensure it’s put on properly. Otherwise it may not protect you completely.

            • For infection control, any spills should be immediately contained, the area should be cleaned and sanitized, and the trash needs to be disposed of properly in containers.

            • Hands or other affected body parts should be rinsed with warm water and soap after removing any PPE. If soap is not available, you should use sanitizing wipes or hand sanitizer.

            • All of your clothes should be washed after giving CPR to avoid any infection transmission.


          Knowing how to perform CPR will come in handy even if you don’t work as an EMT or paramedic.

          We suggest you get a certificate if you are interested in learning CPR. However, besides getting certified, it is important to ensure your own safety as well in an emergency.

          Pathogens can cause diseases and come in many forms, such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, parasites, and worms. So, how to stay safe from pathogens when performing CPR and help a person in need of medical assistance?

          Since you never know when you’ll find yourself in a situation calling for bystander CPR, you should carry a first-aid kit with you whenever possible. Before you start performing CPR, protect yourself with the use of PPE.

          Try to remain calm and follow all standard precautions we covered above. You should always use a mask, face shield, gloves, and gown to stay protected when performing ventilation or intubation. Finally, take note of the standard precautions when dealing with infection control.