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Rumors about HIV in Movie Theaters, Phone Booths, etc.

Mar 19, 1999

I recently received this e-mail. Is this possible? Subject: Police Statement- A real situation threatens you and your family. For your information, a couple of weeks ago, in a Dallas movie theater, a person sat on something sharp in one of the seats. When she stood up to see what it was, a needle was found poking through the seat with an attached note saying, "you have been infected with HIV". The Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta reports similar events have taken place in several other cities recently. All of the needles tested HAVE been positive for HIV. The CDC also reports that needles have been found in the coin return areas of pay phones and soda machines. Everyone is asked to use extreme caution when confronted with these types of situations. All public chairs should be thoroughly but safely inspected prior to any use. A thorough visual inspection is considered the bare minimum. Furthermore, they ask that everyone notify their family members and friends of the potential dangers, as well. Thank you. The previous information was sent from the Dallas Police Department to all of the local governments in the Washington area and was interdepartmentally dispersed. We were all asked to pass this to as many people as possible

Response from Mr. Sowadsky

Thank you for your question. What you have heard about is a rumor that has been circulating all throughout the Internet. This rumor is not true. Unfortunately, you cannot believe everything you read online. HIV has never been transmitted under these circumstances. The following information directly addresses this issue:

From the CDC HIV/STD/TB Prevention News Update, dated March 18, 1999:

"Fear of Needles Needless" Washington Times (03/18/99) P. C3; Redmon, Jeremy A number of people in the Washington, D.C., area have expressed concern over a rumor that HIV-infected needles were being left in coin-return slots in public telephones. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention assures that the rumor is not true, and folklore experts call the story an urban legend. In Southwestern Virginia, though, two people were accidentally stuck with needles in February that had been left in telephone coin-return slots. Additionally, police in Wythe County, Va., found hypodermic needles in a post office mailbox, a night deposit box, and in a pay phone coin-return slot last February. Police believe that the incidents are the work of people imitating the rumors. Recently, many people have received e-mail messages warning of HIV-infected needles left on movie-theater seats and other places. Officials from the CDC note that individuals who are pricked by needles should go to the emergency room.

From the Centers For Disease Control:

CDC has received inquiries about a variety of reports or warnings about used needles left by HIV-infected injection drug users in coin return slots of pay phones and movie theater seats. These reports and warnings are being circulated on the Internet and by e-mail and fax. Some reports have falsely indicated that CDC "confirmed" the presence of HIV in the needles. CDC has not tested such needles nor has CDC confirmed the presence or absence of HIV in any sample related to these rumors. The majority of these reports and warnings appear to have no foundation in fact.

CDC recently was informed of one incident in Virginia of a needle stick from a small-gauge needle (believed to be an insulin needle) in a coin return slot of a pay phone. The incident was investigated by the local police department. Several days later, after a report of this police action appeared in the local newspaper, a needle was found in a vending machine but did not cause a needle-stick injury.

Discarded needles are sometimes found in the community outside of health care settings. These needles are believed to have been discarded by persons who use insulin or are injection drug users. Occasionally the "public" and certain groups of workers (e.g., sanitation workers or housekeeping staff) may sustain needle-stick injuries involving inappropriately discarded needles. Needle-stick injuries can transfer blood and blood-borne pathogens (e.g., hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and HIV), but the risk of transmission from discarded needles is extremely low.

CDC does not recommend testing discarded needles to assess the presence or absence of infectious agents in the needles. Management of exposed persons should be done on a case-by-case evaluation of (1) the risk of a blood-borne pathogen infection in the source and (2) the nature of the injury. Anyone who is injured from a needle stick in a community setting should contact their physician or go to an emergency room as soon as possible. The injury should be reported to the local or state health departments. CDC is not aware of any cases where HIV has been transmitted by a needle-stick injury outside a health care setting.

For information on a similar topic, read the posting HIV infection through needle attacks found on this website.

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

Lab Technician reusing needles in California
HIV infection through "needle attacks"?

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