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ear wax service
Nov 8, 2001

To Nancy or any expert:

I have a question regarding HIV transmission in aworksplace. Thank you in advance for your response.

I'm asian and going to a barber shop in the South Bay Area for a hair cut every 4 weeks. The shop has a service I'm sure most of you never heard of, that is ear wax removal. Alot of asian males who come in to have hair cuts and have the service. At one time I have a scab in one ear due to previous use of cotton swab. I had the service few days after. The barber used a aluminum tool (several inches long), thin but not sharp that can easily penetrate the skin, which has a flat head few milimeters long, carefully tried to create small breaks of the build-up layer in the ear that has the scab, before he would use another tool to peel a portion of the build-up from the breaks. One porting at a time. In the first few seconds, the tool touched the scab and caused "some/little" bleeding as he put ir. He stopped right away and told me about that. He went on the other ear.


1. Can HIV transmit that way saying the tool has no visible blood?

2. And say if the tool has some blood on it from the previous customer (about 10-15 mins each session) and the barber only wipes the tool with a cleanex?

3. And what if he did not wipe or disinfect the tool, just sat it down and used it again 10-15 mins later?

He told me later that it's rare that the service would cause bleedings.

What kind of a risk in each scenario? Is testing necessary?

Thank you very much and sorry for a long one.

Response from Ms. Breuer

You're right: this question is a first, although I have had a question from a gentleman who liked having his tongue in his partners' ears and had an earwax transmission question. (The answer was "no risk.")

But yours is related to the grooming instrument. I'll give my response the same numbers you gave your questions.

1. HIV is not a risk from a dry tool that did not have anyone else's blood on it. Dried blood does not transmit HIV.

2. If the tool did have traces of a previous customer's blood on it and the barber only wiped the tool with a tissue, that is inadequate infection control. The presence of blood on an instrument means the barber must clean it in a way that would kill any and all bloodborne diseases. That means washing it in hot, soapy water or autoclaving it for the recommended number of minutes. HIV is not the risk here. Hepatitis B is the risk here, and you may be aware that the rate of hepatitis B is relatively high in Asian populations. Please ask him what he does to sterilize his earwax instrument between customers so that you don't have to act on assumptions. Hepatitis B can be transmitted from dried blood through contact with an opening into someone else's bloodstream. Wiping with a tissue would help, but not eliminate the risk.

I think I've combined responses to your questions 2 and 3.

Have you been vaccinated against hepatitis B? If so, I see no need for testing in your case. If not, please consider acquiring the vaccination. But I do see a possible need for a hygiene upgrade on your barber's part. The state has clear standards for infection control for every business that might come into contact with human blood, even if that happens only rarely.

Thank you for your question.

Workplace issues?

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