Cut by sharp object


Hi, I work as a middle school teacher. Last week when I was picking up the compasses during a Math lesson on of the sharp ends of the compass pierced and cut my skin. I was curious as to the risk of contracting HIV by this event. What worries me is that maybe the student who was working with that compass had cut themself while they were working with it during the lesson. Thank you


I'm so glad you wrote in. As a teacher, you have a special obligation to be very clear about what does and does not transmit HIV; you never know when a student will give you a chance to explain this (now)life skill of avoiding HIV infection. And you work with sharp objects.

So here's your "math" lesson: there are only four ways to contract HIV, and the exposure you describe isn't one of them. They are:

  1. unprotected sex with an infected person
  2. sharing hollow needles with an infected person
  3. birth to or breastfeeding from an infected mother
  4. receiving a contaminated blood product (such as transfusion or transplantation)

The risk in sharing a hollow needle is any blood left INSIDE the needle or syringe. Blood on the outside of any object, exposed to oxygen, could potentially be infectious for hepatitis B, but not for HIV. HIV cannot survive in oxygen. Hepatitis B can be reconstituted from dried blood by contact with moisture (such as your own blood).

Because your students work with compasses, I would suggest that you talk with them about the importance of cleaning any of their blood that happens to get on a compass with soap and water before they turn it back in at the end of class, because of the risk of hepatitis.

Thanks for your question.