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HIV Risk Post Mortem (RISK OF HIV FROM CORPSE OR CADAVER)
Nov 14, 2008

I am an embalmer at a local funeral home and yesterday I was exposed to the blood of a person who is HIV positive. The person had spent approximately 2 days at the Medical Examiner's and was refrigerated to a temperature of roughly 35F-40F. I went through the entire embalming procedure and when complete I took off one of my gloves and noticed that one of my fingers was very wet. The glove had a small hole in the tip of the index finger section that allowed what I can only assume to be blood and various embalming chemicals onto my skin. I had no cuts or other abrasions but my skin had been exposed to the various liquids for quite some time as it exhibited the pruning effect that comes from prolonged exposure to fluids. Due to the various pathology courses we're required to take I know certain things about the HIV virus and I know that it is very fragile outside of the body and that touching the blood is very low risk as long as their is no way for it to breach your own skin, but this sort of long term exposure was not covered and I'm not sure just how worried I should be. I'm exposed to stuff like this everyday but because of my protective equipment I've never been directly exposed to this. Is there a serious chance that I may have been infected?

Response from Dr. Frascino

Hi,

Your HIV-acquisition risk is essentially nonexistent. HIV cannot permeate intact skin. Plus, the guy had been on ice for two days!

See below for other cadaver questions. (By the way, Six Feet Under was one of my all-time favorite television series.)

Dr. Bob

please help doc, from firefighter!! Feb 22, 2007

hey doc, how goes it? doc i am the lousy firefighter who has not stopped asking questions,and who invited you to our station but still you wouldnt come. but here goes another one. doc i was removing a dead person from a collapsed building when i got in contact with his blood, the person has been dead for 2+ days. am i at any risk of getting HIV?? and another thing, is the fluid that fills the blisters on second degree burns infectious ?what if they are not fresh blisters?is the skin good enough for HIV stability for more than minutes or hours?? thanks a lot.

greetings doctor, i am an ambulance worker, and i had a recent blood exposure and i would like to know how much HIV risk i have. i was removing a dead body from a collapsed builing after 3 days of the collapse, the body was dead since 2 days, and by accident i got some of the dead person;s blood on my fore arm and hands. is there and rick of HIV transfer from such an exposure?and is the outer skin of a person suitable to make the virus survive for more than minutes or hours? example is the fluid that fills the blisters on second degree burns?thanks a lot

Response from Dr. Frascino

Hi,

So what are you, an ambulance worker or a firefighter or both? And does that offer to visit the station still stand?

First off, if HIV-infected fluids come in contact with your skin, there is essentially no risk if your skin is intact.

Next, let me review the conventional wisdom about HIV in body fluids. HIV can be transmitted if these infected fluids come in contact with mucous membranes or non-intact skin:

blood and blood products semen and pre-cum cervical and vaginal secretions menses

HIV can be present in, but is not transmitted through, the following fluids:

saliva tears blister fluid

HIV is not present in the following body fluids (unless contaminated by visible blood):

urine feces vomit sweat

Finally, the lifespan of an HIV particle in the body is approximately 24 hours. Once a person dies, the virus can no longer reproduce itself.

Consequently, your HIV risk from the situations you describe are nonexistent. Also, I would hope you would be wearing gloves when performing such duties.

Now stop worrying so much, OK Firefighter-Ambulance-Guy?

Stay well.

Dr. Bob

HIV in a corpse Sep 18, 2008

Dear Dr Frascino

I work for a NGO in the HIV-field in South Africa. One of our patients asked the interesting question of "How long can the HIV virus survive within a corpse?" This is not a sexual question, but is relevant in many cultures in SA where family members wash the body of the dead.

I have done some research but was unable to find an answer. We often refer people to this website so I thought I might ask you. Also I wasn't sure in which category to place this question but as this forum is one of the most read ones, I thought I would post it here. Please help if you can.

Thank you for all the good work you are doing with this website. Here in South Africa it is a real help.

M

Response from Dr. Frascino

Hello M,

Although there have been no specific studies of HIV survival in corpses before or after embalming, no instances of HIV transmission have been reported from an exposure incurred in performing mortuary services. HIV is extremely fragile. For an extra level of safety, I would advise the family members to use the same precautions when washing the body of the dead as they used when the individual was alive. (See below.) This would include using rubber gloves for contact with non-intact skin or possibly infectious bodily fluids.

Dr. Bob

Worried. May 1, 2006

If you defile a corpse of someone who had died of AIDS, is it possible to contract it even after their death?

Response from Dr. Frascino

Hello,

If you are defiling corpses, worrying about HIV/AIDS is certainly not your biggest problem.

Dr. Bob



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