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Co-worker with AIDS who is sick.
Aug 29, 2001

I have a friend who has a co-worker who has HIV/AIDS. This co-worker is very sick all the time and has told her that he has CMV now. She is concerned since she is trying to get pregnant and knows that CMV can be dangerous for an unborn child if she is pregnant. I know that you cannot fire someone for just having HIV/AIDS but, what if it is the other viruses they catch, due to their immune system being lax, causes a threat to the others in the workplace.

Response from Ms. Breuer

This is just a great question, and I thank you for sending it in. There are so many conditions that would make a pregnant woman or a woman who wants to become pregnant nervous, (or others in the workplace!) and there is good news in response.

This can be confusing the first time you read it, so please read it more than once: A person with HIV or AIDS does not pose a threat to the health of anyone else in the workplace, unless the person with HIV/AIDS has tuberculosis. But anyone with TB poses a threat to anyone else in the workplace, which is why people with TB are not permitted at work. Besides, a person with HIV/AIDS who acquires TB, sadly, is unlikely to live long enough to put someone else at work at risk.

Having said that, let's address CMV and the other awful opportunistic infections. Your friend would be exposed to them whether her co-worker with HIV/AIDS were present or not. All of us are exposed to the germs that cause these terrible diseases. The difference between others and those who have HIV infection is the sturdiness of their immune response. When I worked for the Red Cross, I learned that there are very few Americans whose blood can be used for transfusions into newborns because most of us have blood that will test positive for exposure to CMV. But most of us will never show its symptoms, because of a healthy immune response that keeps it in check.

Your friend is in no danger from a co-worker seriously ill with HIV/AIDS. The best thing she can do for herself as she seeks to become pregnant is to strengthen her own immune system with all the things our grandmothers told us about: good nutrition, adequate exercise, adequate sleep, moderation in alcohol, no get the picture. The reason your friend's co-worker is suffering the effects of CMV is that his immune system cannot keep it under control the way an uninfected person's could. This must be a very scary time in his life, and she could give him a wonderful gift that would not threaten her future child at all by befriending him, being part of his support system. She can strengthen the architecture of her own heart in the process. Everyone wins.

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