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Human-derived materials - BBP - including blood and cell lines Biological Agent Reference Sheet (BARS)

Updated December 1, 2023
Disclaimer: Risk group, biosafety level, and all other precautions noted here are subject to change after a risk assessment by EHS.


Agent Type Risk Group Biosafety Level Animal Housing Biosafety Level
Biohazard RG-2 BSL-2 ABSL-2

Agent Characteristics 

Risk Group: RG-2 associated with human disease, rarely serious; preventive, or therapeutic interventions often available.

Agent Type: Biohazard

Description: Human derived materials are potentially infected with bloodborne pathogens and are therefore included in the OSHA Bloodborne Pathogens (BBP) Standard 1910.1030, which includes unfixed blood, cell lines, breast milk, tissues, and fluids such as synovial, cerebrospinal, and pericardial - known as "other potentially infectious materials (OPIM)." These materials are exempt from the standard if they have been chemically fixed, which inherently inactivates the pathogens and renders them non-infectious. Saliva, urine, sweat, emesis, and feces are only considered potentially infected with bloodborne pathogens if they are visibly contaminated with blood. These materials are exempt from the standard if they are not visibly contaminated with blood. Please see the Human Feces BARS for additional guidance when working with this material. Materials covered by the OSHA BBP Standard may contain a variety of bloodborne  pathogens, including bacteria, viruses, and parasites. Pathogens that could be found in human materials include HIV, Hepatitis B, and Hepatitis C, along with other infectious diseases. Primary human materials (those derived directly from a donor) are at high risk of containing bloodborne pathogens. Established human cell lines (purchased from a vendor or shared by a collaborator) may be unintentionally contaminated upon receipt or during routine experimentation. Some cell lines are known to carry additional pathogen genetic material such as Human Papillomavirus (HPV) DNA in HeLA cells. Cancerous cell lines pose the additional risk of causing localized tumors or, if malignant, additional carcinogenic concerns if exposed. Autologous blood samples (one's own blood) may become altered during handling in the lab. If an individual is exposed to his/her own blood that has been contaminated with a pathogen from the lab, the immune system may respond less vigorously than it does to allogeneic (non-self) cells. Also, if autologous blood samples are genetically engineered and then accidentally reintroduced into the donor, the altered cells could escape the usual rejection (killing) by the immune system which would kill accidentally introduced allogeneic cells. 

Host Range: Humans, animals (experimentally inoculated with human derived materials (such as xenografts)).

Host Shedding: Blood, Feces, Saliva, Other potentially infectious bodily fluids/materials including unfixed tissues, synovial fluids, cerebrospinal fluids, etc. 

Routes of Exposure to Humans: Mucous Membranes, Vertical Transmission, Ingestion, Percutaneous

Infectious Dose: Unknown                            Incubation Period: Varies

Health Hazards

Signs and symptoms of infection may include:

  • Flu-like symptoms (i.e. fever, headache, dehydration, weight loss, lethargy)
  • Reproductive Health concerns (i.e. abortion, fetal abnormalities)

Immunizations: Available             Prophylaxis*: Hepatitis B Booster, antivirals based on risk assessment

*Formal medical advice is obtained during medical consultations with Cornell Health or primary healthcare provider as needed.

Agent Viability 

Survival Outside Host Disinfection

Blood and other potentially infectious materials can harbor bloodborne pathogens for days or weeks in proper conditions outside the body. Dried blood can harbor bloodborne pathogens for hours or days.

1:10 Bleach Dilution 

Other: Spor-Klenz/Ygiene

For more guidance on disinfection see: disinfectant selection.

Laboratory Hazards 

  • High energy-creating activities (centrifugation, sonication, high pressure systems, vortexing, tube cap popping)
  • Handling of sharps (needles, scalpels, microtome blades, broken glass, etc.)
  • Splash/droplet-creating activities (shaking incubators, liquid culturing, mechanical pipetting)
  • Equipment contamination
  • Exposed skin/uncovered wounds

Laboratory Acquired Infection (LAI) History: Multiple infections as a result of contact with infected human materials. One case of cancer as a result of needle stick with adenocarcinoma.

Laboratory Handling Guidelines 

Laboratory Biosafety Level (BSL): BSL-2

Attenuated Strain Alternatives: Using fixed tissues/samples, pathogen screening, cell line verification testing, and use of lower mammalian blood/cell lines first are all viable alternatives to practice procedures prior to handling these materials.

Training Lab Engineering Controls Personal Protective Equipment
  • Eye Protection
  • Single gloves
  • Additional gloves
  • Snap-front lab coat with cinch cuffs

Waste Management: Regulated Medical Waste (RMW)

Shipping Guidance: Refer to EHS Biological Materials Shipping 

Animal Vivarium Guidance

Animal Housing Biosafety Level (ABSL): ABSL-2

Animal Biosecurity: Experimental animals are housed separately         

Perform Inoculations: Biosafety Cabinet

Change CagesBiosafety Cabinet, Cage Changing Station

Exposure and Spill Procedures 

Mucous Membranes: Flush eyes, mouth, or nose for 15 minutes at an eyewash station. See: responding to exposures.

Other Exposures: Wash with soap and water for 15 minutes (open wounds, sores, etc.) or a minimum of 20 seconds for areas with intact skin. See: responding to exposures.

Small Spills: Notify others working in the lab. Evacuate the area and allow 30 minutes for aerosols to settle. Don appropriate PPE. Cover area of the spill with paper towels and apply disinfectant, working from the perimeter toward the center. Allow 30 minutes of contact time before disposal and cleanup of spill materials. See spill cleanup.

Large Spills: Request assistance from the EHS Spill Team by calling CUPD dispatch. Call 911 from a campus phone or 607-255-1111 from a mobile phone.

Incident Reporting: Immediately report the incident to the supervisor and complete the EHS online injury/illness report as soon as possible.

Medical Follow-Up:

  • For students, seek medical attention at Cornell Health or local primary care provider. Call Cornell Health at 607-255-5155 (24-hour phone consultation line) or a local urgent care. 
  • For faculty and staff, seek medical evaluation with a local primary care provider or urgent care. Cornell Health does not see employees for post-exposure care. 
  • Emergencies: Call 911 from a campus phone or 607-255-1111 from a mobile phone. 
Cornell EHS would like to thank Emory University for the use of their Biological Agent Reference Sheet (BARS) format and some content.