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fear of spreading aids in the workplace
Oct 28, 2001

I work with a person who just told me he had aids. I work indirect contact as technical support. this person has very dry chapped hands that bleed and spits when talking. Also, this person has constant nose mucas drip that he wipes with his hand and touches things. Is there a threat to me or my co-workers? Although he is a very nice and sincere person, he has no clue on how to cover his mouth when coughing or wiping his nose with a tissue. Can his lack of hygine be a threat to his fellow workers?

Response from Ms. Breuer

Great question. The HIV-positive co-worker with lousy hygiene is a common and understandably scary situation. I hope my answer will make sense to you.

What you are watching as this person's nose drips constantly, as he wipes his nose with his hands and as he coughs without covering his mouth is the distribution of germs we all encounter every day. We just don't usually get to see it happening quite so immediately.

Exposure to these common germs is not a threat to your health. The healthy immune system does not call this danger. The healthy immune system calls this exercise. Most of us can respond to this by successfully fighting off the cold germs or nasal virus germs without skipping a beat. Being challenged with this stuff is actually good for us: it keeps our immune systems tuned up. Nothing in his runny nose or coughing is capable of transmitting HIV to anyone else, either.

I would recommend that you all be careful to wash your hands more often, especially before eating (remember: this includes office cookies and donuts!), but only because you happen to have a visual reminder of what we all encounter every day on elevator buttons, stair rails, telephone receivers, cash, etc. And please understand: I would be telling you this whether he were HIV positive or negative.

The chapped hands that bleed are another issue. Once again, the small amount of blood involved in chapped hands does not pose a threat of HIV infection to anyone, but if he is leaving blood behind on anything, that should be brought to the attention of your HR director, occupational health nurse or company officer who handles personnel issues. The risk of human blood left on surfaces is not risk of HIV. HIV cannot thrive on environmental surfaces in trace amounts of blood. It's a risk of hepatitis B that concerns me. If no one in your company seems capable of getting exercised about human blood on environmental surfaces, please seek advice from your local public health department. I doubt that your co-worker is leaving things blood-smeared, but just in case, I thought I'd tell you that this would be the best way to proceed. Thanks for an important question that will help other visitors to this website, too.



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