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cadaver risks?
Nov 18, 2004

Our son has started working for a company who does research on joint replacement. They work with sections of cadavers for hip, knee, and shoulder replacement. His degree is in engineering, but not in biomedical engineering, as some of his co-workers are.They will train him,but we are concerned about safety issues. Is there much risk of hepatitis B or HIV working with cadavers? Are cadavers embalmed or otherwise treated in such a way that blood-born pathogens are eliminated or lessened? He has not had a hepatitis B shot, and his company has not mentioned that he should have one for his job, which makes me wonder if they just assume he has had one. Thanks for your time.

Response from Ms. Breuer

Oh, the career possibilities with an engineering degree! Great question.

HIV virions have a lifespan in the human body of about 24 hours. In a living body, they reproduce themselves before that time is up. In a cadaver, the life processes have stopped and there is no way they can reproduce themselves. Whether the body has been embalmed or not, the risk of HIV is extremely low--and I say that rather than non-existent because I don't know how much time passes between death and your son's company's work. Hepatitis is more robust, but I assume your son will be using gloves for all this work.

Your general question about how the cadavers have been treated is an excellent one, and one that only his new employer can answer. I am not aware of a universal standard. Your hepatitis question is also excellent. I would encourage the vaccination, by all means, given the nature of the work. I would also encourage him to ask a lot of safety questions during the orientation/training period for this fascinating job.


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