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Occupational Exposure?

Jul 26, 2017

I work in a lab that does HIV viral load testing on plasma samples. I was preparing the plasma samples for known HIV positive patients, and accidentally spilled some of the sample on my gloves. None got on my skin. I then was called away for an emergency at the clinic and quickly took off my gloves. Due to the urgent nature of the situation, I didn't have time to wash my hands after I degloved (per universal precautions) and remember touching my eyes several times afterwards. Specifically one time I had to adjust my contacts. I reported the situation to my lab supervisor and one of the physicians I work with and he indicated it was not considered a significant exposure and that PEP was not warranted. I still feel very paranoid about the situation though. Is he correct?

Response from Mr. Jacobs

Based on what you are sharing I would also fail to see the need for PeP. But let's break it down and figure out why this does not warrant concern.

(1) You mention preparing plasma samples. But you don't say if the patients had detectable levels or not. If a person with HIV is undetectable for six months or longer then their blood is considered "untransmittable" (http://www.thebody.com/content/79761/why-for-hiv-undetectable--untransmittable.html).

(2) Next - some of the samples splashed on your gloves. You then took the gloves off and didn't wash your hands. For the sake of argument, let's say that there were detectable levels of HIV on your gloves that got on your hands. Even if that were the case, there is still no opportunity for exposure because HIV dies within seconds of exposure to oxygen (http://www.thebody.com/content/78184/how-many-minutes-will-hiv-survive-outside-the-body.html).

So even if you had adjusted your contacts without washing your hands, and even if you previously had detectable levels of HIV on your fingertips, there is still not an opportunity for HIV to enter your body from this route. Transmittable HIV simply can't survive without mucous membranes for that long.

In general it is very important we all wash our hands prior to adjusting our contacts or touching our eyes, especially in a medical crisis area. But among the potential dangers that exist in this scenario, HIV is not one of them.

For more information about HIV transmission and risk, please visit our forum here at The Body.com http://www.thebody.com/content/30024/hiv-transmission.html .



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