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About Syringes, Knives & Lymph Nodes

Feb 24, 1997

How safe it is to share syringes( not needle) washed with mild disinfectants? They do like this in clinics in develping countries. Even if there is no visible trace of blood in the syringe, can HIV infection occur? - What about using a "used" knife to cut a wound and the knife/scissor was used previously on a HIV infected patient? - About inital acute symptoms, does it appear 4/6 weeks after exposure or 4/6 weeks after infection. Is the term "exposure" different from the term "infection" - are swollen lymph nodes a sure symptom of HIV? If so, after how many years it appears and where do they usually appear? I have a slightly swollen ( not prominent) persistent lymph gland below my rigt jaw, and if i feel around it , there are 2/3 very small ones also, but no pain. In case of HIV, are the lymph nodes always painful? Iam asking these questions because of the possible "clinic" experience which I underwent a year ago. Pease do reply. Thanks

Response from Mr. Sowadsky

Hi. Thank you for your question.

There are only 2 ways to disinfect syringes and other medical instruments. One is to put them into an autoclave (a sterilizer). This uses heat and pressure to kill microorganisms. However, items that can melt cannot be put into an autoclave. The other way is to use chemical disinfectants. The best chemical disinfectant to kill HIV and other microorganisms is a liquid chlorine bleach solution. This will kill HIV, Hepatitis B, and other infectious agents. Chemical disinfectants cannot be used on all surfaces. Also, not all chemical disinfectants will work against all microorganisms. But liquid chlorine bleach is perhaps the best disinfectant, however it cannot be used on all surfaces. In the USA and other western countries, medical supplies that cannot be sterilized are disposed of after one use. Things like needles and syringes are disposed of after use, and are never re-used. If a syringe has not been sterilized, there can be a risk of infection if it's shared. There may be blood present inside the syringe that you can't easily notice. In developing countries, needles, syringes, knives, etc. are often re-used. Sadly, because of this practice, people have become infected through medical clinics in these countries. If these items are not sterilized, then there is a risk of many infectious diseases. And remember, other bloodborne diseases like Hepatitis B, pose an even greater risk of infection than HIV. So in developing countries, if items are not put into an autoclave, or if they are not cleaned with bleach, there is a real risk of infection with numerous infectious diseases.

The term "exposure" means an activity (sexual, needle-sharing etc.) that gives the virus a chance to enter another persons bloodstream. If a person gets exposed, but the virus doesn't get into the bloodstream, the person will not be infected. So during an exposure, the person may or may not get infected.

The term "infection" means the virus actually entered the bloodstream, and infected the person. When talking about HIV, we often use the terms "exposure" and "infection" interchangably, but technically they mean two different things.

For information about the symptoms of HIV/AIDS, see the questions, "symptomatic stage" and "swollen glands". And remember, every symptom related to HIV/AIDS looks like the symptoms of other illnesses. Therefore symptoms alone cannot determine whether a person has HIV or not. NOBODY can tell you whether or not your symptoms are due to HIV/AIDS, without getting tested. That's why laboratory testing is so important.

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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