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HIV and Lab Workers

Jan 14, 1998

I work in the lab at a very busy clinic. The other day I was working in the area of urinalysis and things got a bit hectic. I was trying to leave my area for lunch before any more samples came to me and so I left the lab in a hurry. I do not remember if I washed my hands or not before I went to lunch break. I know I ate some of my lunch with my hands. I am nervous about the possibility of having had some urine on my hand and then eatting my lunch. I guess I am so bothered because I am almost six months pregnant. What is the risk of getting HIV this way? By the way, some of the urines I deal with have blood in them, and I was tested for HIV at the begining of my pregnancy and was negative. Thanks for your help.

Response from Mr. Sowadsky


Thank you for your question. When you try to determine whether you are at risk for HIV or not, you have to remember the following:

1) You must be exposed to pre-cum, semen, vaginal secretions, blood, or breast milk, AND

2) The virus must get directly into your bloodstream through some fresh cut, open sore, abrasion etc., AND

3) Transmission must go directly from 1 person to the other very quickly.....the virus does not survive more than a few minutes outside the body.

No matter what the circumstances are, if you think about these 3 criteria for transmission, you'll be able to determine whether you're at risk for HIV or not.

In your specific situation, you would only be at risk if:

1) The urine specimen came from an HIV positive patient, AND

2) The urine specimen you were exposed to had visible blood in it, AND

3) Those specimen then got onto your hands, AND

4) The specimen then got directly into your mouth, all within minutes.

Realistically, I don't see this being very likely under your specific circumstances, especially since HIV does not survive long outside the body. The less blood that had a direct access to your bloodstream (if any did at all), the less the risk. It's difficult to determine whether any of the patients blood ever had a direct access to your bloodstream or not. You may want to talk to your supervisor to see if you want this incident documented. I can understand your fears, especially since you are pregnant. But realistically, the chances of you getting infected with HIV this way are unlikely. You should however talk to your supervisor regarding exposure to any other infections (like CMV, etc.) that may have an effect on your pregnancy. In the future, you should pay more attention to established infection control procedures (also known as universal precautions).

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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