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healing cuts

Feb 18, 1997

I was hoping that you could clear up some information for me regarding small cuts. How long would it take a cut (made on the skin, not mucous membranes) the size made by a lancet(or smaller- but a cut that still draws blood)to no longer be an access to the bloodstream. Many times in these small cuts(perhaps made by a person biting their fingernails and cuticle) a scar(if by that you mean a visible black/dark spot) will not appear for many hours. But these cuts surely must not be an access to the bloodstream for more than 10 or 20 minutes. Is this what you mean by a cut that is no longer an access to the bloodstream because "it is healing"? Also, for a laceration to be a direct access to the bloodstream there would of once have had to be blood coming from the la ceration. Even miniscule cuts bleed-correct? Thank you.

Response from Mr. Sowadsky

Hi. Thank you for your question.

Let me clarify once and for all, about cuts, and HIV's ability to access the bloodstream.

Any breakdown in the integrity of the skin can allow HIV to enter the bloodstream. This includes cuts, abrasions, lesions from STD's (like herpes), or skin problems like dermatitis. For cuts, once a scab forms (usually within a few hours), this would no longer be an access to the bloodstream. Of course, the deeper the cut, or the more severe the damage to the skin, the longer it will take for healing to take place. Not everyone heals (and therfore produces a scab) at the same rate, so nobody can give you an exact amount of time it would take for a cut to heal, or for a scab to form. But the larger the cut, the greater the amount of time it would take for a scab to form, and for the cut to heal. Let me repeat that the amount of time it takes for a scab to form, and for a cut to heal, can vary from person to person.

If a cut has a scab on it, it is no longer considered a fresh open cut, and is not a direct access to the bloodstream. But the larger the cut, and the fresher the cut, the greater the risk there would be if blood, semen, etc. were to get directly into that open cut. But once the cut develops a scab, the scab that develops acts as a barrier to prevent HIV from entering the bloodstream.

Cuts and abrasions are much more likely to occur on mucous membranes than regular skin. Mucous membranes are found on the head of the penis, vagina, rectum, eyes, nose, and mouth. Mucous membranes are much thinner than the skin found on your hands and other parts of your body. Therefore, mucous membranes are much more likely to have microscopic cuts and abrasions. If you were to get blood, semen, or vaginal secretions directly in a fresh open cut on your hands, yes, there is a possibility of infection. But there would be an even greater possibility of infection if blood, semen or vaginal secretions were to get onto a mucous membrane like the mouth or the head of the penis. So don't panic if you get blood, semen, or vaginal secretions on your hands. The skin on your hands is much thicker than the linings made of mucous membranes. The thicker the skin, the less the chance for abrasions and cuts. I hope this made things a bit clearer.

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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