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I punctured my self with an
Feb 26, 1998

I work as a dental assistant and an incident ocurred recently where I punctured my thumb with a used syringe of a "uninfected patient". The syringe did not contain any blood tissue when the accident happened. The puncture was very tiny and it did not feel like it went through a deeper layer of my skin. My preocupation consists of the chances I have to have contracted hiv or hepatitis. Six years ago I was vaccinated for hepatitis prevention. I consulted with my employer about the situation to see if I coiuld get a more accurate health history of the patient. It seems that they are concern with policies regarding intervention with the patient for obvious law reasons. They told me they will contact the state dental association to find more information in terms of how to proceed. What should I do meanwhile?. I know I have to wait six months since the incident to find out if I have contracted hiv particularly. Are there any other procedures I should consider?. I am extremelly nervous about this. I need some peace of mind. Please help me.

Response from Ms. Breuer

Your greatest peace of mind will come from taking action yourself, not from waiting for your employer to take action. As soon as you possibly can, get yourself to your own physician, or to a specialist in infectious diseases, and get a professional assessment of your exposure. You were so wise to vaccinate yourself against hepatitis B six years ago. Ask your doctor while you're there about the timing of a booster shot.

As you know, the greatest risk from an occupational exposure is hepatitis B or C. There is no vaccine for C yet, but your physician should be watching you for any sign that you might have contracted it. Your description of the incident sounds as if your risk of exposure to HIV was indeed remote; the contents of the syringe would need to enter your flesh to put you at risk of HIV. I am not a physician, so this cannot be construed as medical advice, though, so you really need to consult with a qualified medical professional. Talk with your physician about whether s/he thinks that preventive medication against a possible HIV infection is a good idea.

Yes, you need to wait six months for a reliable HIV test, but there is no reason not to do an intermediate test at 12 weeks (3 months). The vast majority of newly-infected people do have positive tests at 3 months. A negative test at that point could help to relieve your stress.

Nancy Breuer



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