Bitten Police Officer
May 21, 2005
Dear Dr. Conway:
I realize this site is for people infected with HIV and I would not fault you for not entertaining me with a response to this one but here it goes. I wrote you a post a few weeks back regarding the Bitten Police Officer (me). If you remember I told you that I was bitten on the ankle by a homeless man who had no visible blood in his mouth, caused a small opened wound on my ankle through my sock and tested negative for HIV and Hepatitis. I realize that the risk of transmission from someone who is actually HIV+ is extremely unlikely, as numerous physicians have told me. However, I believe I'm letting my mind get the best of me. I became fairly paranoid and depressed after getting bitten which caused me to lose my appetite and lose about 7 pounds in about two weeks. The weight loss made me think I was infected not because of loss of appetite but rather because the homeless person infected me while he was in a window period. I discussed this matter with my doctor and he told me that I was indeed overreacting and that he felt I needed to be put on medication, to wit: Paroxetine 20 mg. I agreed. Well, four days into taking the prescribed medication I started to have diarrhea, headaches, feeling light headed, one night of bed sweats and I was feeling dizzy. This made me think more of being infected. I asked my doctor about this and he told me it was a side effect of the Paroxetine (he could not explain the night sweat episode) and told me to ride it out. Having taken Paxil nine years ago after my wife and son were killed in a motor vehicle crash, caused by a drunk driver, I could not remember having the diarrhea or night sweats while on the medication. This made me think even more of being infected so I stopped the medication after nine days to see if it would stop. It did after about two days but I continued to have soft stools and occasional bouts of diarrhea. Five weeks after being bitten, my eyes started to bother me. They felt dry and irritated. Again, thinking this is somehow related to the bite, I consulted with my doctor. He told me that my eyes may be slightly dry but that they appeared normal during my check up. He said that if this continued that he would draw blood to check for arthritis??? He also said numerous other conditions could cause the dry eyes. I asked him about HIV causing this and he told me that it occurs usually only in people in the advance stage of the disease. Again, my doctor advised me that I taking this way too far. I wanted another blood test taken for HIV but he told me to wait for at least the two month mark. Now every time I have an ill, I think the worst. The unknown is driving me nuts. What's your opinion in my situation? Am I taking this a bit too far? Are the conditions I describe consistent with early infection? By the way, I think this web site is very informative. It opened my eyes to the disease and I learned more than I thought I knew from reading it.
Upstate New York
Response from Dr. Conway
Sometimes, the fear of the unknown can get the best of us...
From an objective point of view, the incident that occurred with the homeless man carried a vanishingly small likelihood of transmitting HIV to you, and there is nothing in your narrative that would make me think any differently. It will be important for you to acknowledge this fact and explore with your doctor why you are not letting go of this. You are to be congratulated for doing all the right things (making sure the homeless man was taken care of and tested on a voluntary basis, gettting tested yourself and planning on further tests over the next 2-3 months). This has led you to where you are: you are as certain as you can be that you were not infected with HIV by an exposure that carried little risk of doing so in the first place. I would have two closing thoughts. First, it appears that you are clinically depressed for reasons that have nothing to do with this incident, and you may need to work on why that is. Second, it seems that you are the type of person who may have some issues of control and certainty. These could be made worse by your depression as well as the unspeakably terrible tragedy that was the senseless loss of your family. All of these things may be linked, and you may need to work through this over time.
I wish you luck and success along your journey, my friend...
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