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Question about HIV and ink

Oct 31, 2009

Hi Dr. Bob!

Although I have searched the archives of this forum and found numerous responses to questions about nose-picking, I have never seen one in the context I am about to describe. I distinctly remember having read somewhere, albeit in reference to tattooing, that viruses can survive for a long time in ink. Does this hold true for the ink at the tip of a ballpoint pin? The reason I ask is because, just prior to a routine HIV test, I went to fill out a form and accidentally touched the tip of the ballpoint pen I was going to use as I picked it up and, although the tip by no means broke the skin on my index finger, it did leave an ink mark. At the time, I thought nothing of it, but a couple of minutes later, I went to, you guessed it, "clean the airways" with that very same finger (nose-picking is a disgusting habit, I know, but a nervous habit that I have always had and one that I often do not even consciously realize I am doing).

In the interest of full disclosure, I am on OCD sufferer who is (sometimes debilitatingly) afflicted by intrusive thoughts. Accordingly, should the situation above sound far-fetched, that is probably why. My OCD often manifests itself as a fear of contracting illness. Oftentimes, I will find myself going to get tested for low-risk (if not downright no-risk) behaviors. I am trying to challenge my irrational thoughts and would love to avoid getting tested for behaviors that do not carry a risk with them. In this case, however, I am genuinely concerned that there may have been a risk involved, even though I have no clue how long prior to my using the pen an HIV-positive person may have used it, if at all. I currently do not have health insurance and thus do not have access to a personal physician whom I can ask directly about my fears.

In your professional opinion, is the situation described above one that would warrant my going to get tested after three months, and if so, what would you say is the risk level associated with that situation?

From the "HIV and Ink" Questioner: Thank You! (Submitted Oct 30, 2009)

Dr. Bob,

From the "HIV and Ink" questioner with obsessive-compulsive disorder: Thank you from the bottom of my heart for answering my question (having neglected to thank you in my nervous state as I typed up my original submission a little while ago), and thank you as well for all the great work that you do. You truly are a wonderful person! I look forward to making a donation! Thanks again!

Important request from the "HIV and Ink" questioner (Submitted Oct 31, 2009)

Dr. Bob,

Greetings from the "HIV and Ink" questioner with obsessive-compulsive disorder.

I promise this is the final message I send you! After all, I need to start fighting my intrusive thoughts instead of giving in to them, right?

Anyway, my anonymity in public forums is very important to me, and although I know subconsciously that I did not include my name in either of my previous submissions (the one with my question and the one thanking you), my mind is telling me that I did (probably false, but an example of the sorts of tricks my mind plays on me nonetheless). Accordingly, if I did include my name in either submission, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE do NOT post it to the forum. Sending this message to you right now is the only way I can defeat my overwhelming anxiety. Thank you!

I am not even sure if you will answer the question from my previous submission, but if so, I will certainly make a hefty donation. And I promise you that it will be immeasurably helpful to me not only in terms of knowing whether or not to get tested for this particular incident, but also in terms of helping me overcome my OCD. I trust your expertise and just do not know where else to turn.

Thanks again!

Response from Dr. Frascino

Hello HIV and Ink OCDer,

I've combined your three questions.

First and foremost, your fears are unwarranted. HIV is not your problem. No way. No how. No additional HIV tests are warranted.

I don't know where you read that "viruses can survive for a long time in ink," but it wasn't here and it certainly does not apply to HIV. HIV does not survive very long at all outside the body (ink or no ink!).

Next, even if HIV were on the ballpoint pen tip, your HIV-acquisition risk would still be nonexistent. HIV cannot permeate intact skin and the pen did not puncture your skin. As for digging to get the bat out of the cave while having the ink on your digging finger, once again, the HIV-acquisition risk is completely nonexistent.

There is no doubt your problem is OCD, not HIV. In fact it appears your OCD is OOC (out of control) and would certainly benefit form psychotherapy (counseling) to help you confront and conquer your irrational fears. Although without health insurance, ongoing psychotherapy can be prohibitively expensive. This is yet another reason we need health care reform! Everyone needs and deserves access to health care! Please advocate for Obama's health care reform and encourage your friends, colleagues and family as well! Living with such intense fears and anxiety must be extremely uncomfortable for you. You mention your OCD is at times debilitating. I strongly advise you not get HIV tested for "no risk" situations (such as your inky-finger, nose-picking incident!). Testing for no-risk situations could lead to a "false positive" result that could really send you over the edge land you in the looney bin.

Finally, please don't worry about your name being included in the post. You did not include it in your questions. Plus, I routinely delete names, numbers and other identifying information out of questions. Your anonymity is safe with me, OK?

Thanks for your donation to The Robert James Frascino AIDS Foundation ( It's warmly appreciated. Remember, HIV is not your problem!

Dr. Bob

On Combivir: feels like POISON! Is it worth it?
small followup question - donation is on the way

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