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Do emergency medical workers need to know if a person has HIV?

Oct 21, 1999

If someone tests positive for HIV/AIDS, what happens if this person is, say, in a car wreck and knocked unconscious and is bleeding, and an EMT/Paramedic is trying to work on the person? Do (+) people have a card or bracelet or something to warn the EMT/Paramedic to be extra careful??

Response from Mr. Sowadsky

Thank you for your question.

All healthcare workers, police officers, fire fighters, paramedics, Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT's), etc. are trained to consider all people as being potentially infectious for HIV and other bloodborne diseases (such as hepatitis B and hepatitis C). They therefore take the exact same precautions with all people, regardless of whether they know the health status of that patient or not. This is known as "universal precautions". When practicing universal precautions, these workers do not need to know the HIV status, hepatitis status, etc. of any patient, since they take the same exact precautions with all patients. Therefore, people with HIV and other bloodborne diseases do not have to carry a card or bracelet notifying these workers of their HIV status.

Since you brought up the subject of medical cards and bracelets, I do want to make everyone aware that there are cards and bracelets available to make healthcare workers aware of a persons medical condition if the person were to be unconscious. These are known as "medic alert" tags (some are bracelets, others are necklaces, and others are wallet cards). These medic alert tags can alert healthcare workers of certain medical conditions if the patient is unable to communicate (for example if the person has allergies to certain drugs, allergies to latex, or if the person has medical conditions such as diabetes or hemophilia). These are important things for a healthcare worker to know, if the patient should be unconscious, or unable to communicate. If you have a medical condition that healthcare workers need to know if you are unconscious (such as if you have drug allergies, etc.), medic alert tags are widely available (very often at drug stores and pharmacies).

If you have any further questions, please feel free to call the Centers for Disease Control at 1.800.232.4636 (Nationwide).

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