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Some workplace HIV transmission questions
Nov 17, 2000

I would appreciated if you could answer this question as it is causing me some anxiety. Recently I was scratched by a HIV+ person in the workplace and I am concerned this may have put me at risk (I could not see any blood coming out of my scratch so I imagine that means the skin wasn't broken). Have there been many incidents of transmission this way or should I not be concerned.

Also could you please tell me approximately how long HIV survives outside the body in an exposed environment e.g. drops of blood on a towel.

Response from Ms. Gabriel

I am so glad you asked this question! First, the basics. HIV can be transmitted by four body fluids: blood, semen, vaginal fluids & breast milk. One of these fluids has to come into contact with your blood stream in order to cause an infection. This can happen by (1)having unprotected sex with an infected partner; (2)sharing contaminated needles; (3)receiving infected blood; or (4)being born to an infected mother.

That said, ask yourself the this question: "Did one of the four body fluids come into contact with my blood stream?" If the answer is "no" you have not been at risk. There have no cases of HIV transmission this way -- only the four ways described above.

Now, how long does HIV live outside the body? Another great question. The easy answer is: not long. Heat, light and air all inactivate the virus. HIV is extremely fragile outside the body. In the blood-on-a-towel scenario, the answer would be seconds. But, again, how would that blood get into contact with your blood stream? In that example, you bigger risk would be hepatitis B or C. This is why universal precautions or standards (using a barrier when blood is present)are essential. You (and anyone else) probably don't know the HIV or hepatitis status of most people's blood. Treat all blood as if it's infectious. That's what keeps doctors, nurses, and paramedics alive.

Lynne Gabriel



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