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Questions regarding casual transmission in the workplace
Dec 17, 1997

Hi,

I recently found out that someone I worked with has AIDS (I was not made aware of this until after he left the company - which is fine with me). I know this is probably absurd, but if I shared a stapler with him on a frequent basis it it possible that I may have been infected? Once, he handed me a sheet of paper with some blood on it, but I noticed and remarked about the blood. He immediately took the sheet paper from me and discard it. I realize that nothing could have happened from that incident, but I worry about that fact that we touched some of the same things on a regular basis. I bite my fingers quite frequently (as you can see I'm the nervous type) and I wonder about that being a possible route of transmission.

I want to say that I have seen this person since and would never treat him differently or express my concerns to anyone else. I would just like to put my mind at rest. Please help.

Response from Ms. Breuer

Clear information about exactly how HIV is transmitted will help you to let go of your nervousness about this. First, we have known for more than a decade that these are the ways HIV is transmitted:

1. unprotected sex with an infected partner

2. sharing contaminated needles

3. birth to, or breastfeeding from, an infected mother

4. receiving a contaminated blood product

You do not mention the first three, and I assume that your concern is based primarily on #4. It will help you to know that HIV cannot survive for more than a few seconds in the air in the amount of blood that would smudge a sheet of paper, and even if it were fresh (wet) blood, that blood would need to come in direct contact with an opening into your bloodstream for you to be at risk. Because of your finger-biting, you need to be especially aware of something we all need to know: do not come in direct, bare-handed contact with human blood. The far greater risks here are hepatitis B and hepatitis C, which are less fragile than HIV in air. Other than that, the shared tools and other objects you describe do not present a risk. HIV in one of the four infectious fluids--blood, semen, vaginal fluids or breast milk--must come into direct, immediate contact with a mucous membrane or an open cut to have access to another person's bloodstream.

You have struck the most important note of all in your closing comment. By not treating this person differently, you are honoring his dignity. I hope that this information about your contact with objects that he has used will put your mind at ease.

Nancy Breuer



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