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Risks if co-workers are infected
Nov 14, 2000

Hi There

I wash dishes at a restaurant and I am concerned as one of my co-workers probably has HIV. During some of the rushes when things are real busy he has accidentally scratched me, although I don't think the scratches broke my skin as there was no blood. Also sometimes when washing the utensils I can prick myself with the knife although usually that knife hasn't been in contact with anyone for at least ten seconds. Assuming he is HIV positive could you please tell me if I am at risk of catching the disease by getting scratched or pricking myself on a knife? Am I in danger of getting HIV from working with a positive person in this situation or can I continue as normal?

Response from Ms. Breuer

Of course you've thought about risk in that setting. But your risk of becoming infected with HIV by a co-worker is really remote. First of all, infected blood would have to have direct contact either with your bloodstream (open bleeding cut to open cut?) or with your mucous membranes, such as your eyes, nose, or mouth. Blood on a used knife has been exposed to oxygen for several seconds, which destroys HIV, so even if you were to cut yourself with a knife that had your co-worker's blood on it, your risk of HIV infection would be really remote. Scratches that don't draw blood? Not a problem. Besides, a scratch would have to contain his blood and have contact with your blood to present a risk -- not very likely.

However, your risk of hepatitis B or C infection would be higher than your risk of HIV. I suggest that you talk with your supervisor about how to handle cuts in the kitchen. They should be bandaged right away. Bloody knives should go straight into hot, soapy water. There are clear, easy to understand rules about blood and restaurant kitchens that you could get from your local public health department. I encourage you to give them a call and ask.

Smart question. Thanks for asking. I'll bet you've helped others by asking this one.

Nancy

Nancy Breuer



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