Teacher with HIV positive student

Question

Dear sir,

I have struggled my entire life with OCD and other germ-related phobias. At one point in my life I was taking three to four shower a day and washing my hands until they cracked and bled. In recent years I have become much more at ease with touching things like subway poles, door knobs, etc. Yet I still have not conquered my unnatural fear of contracting HIV through common forms of touch -- shaking hands, handling objects that have been handled by others, prepared food, etc. I recently started teaching at a local college and found that one of my students is HIV positive. I realize that my fears are likely to be silly and paranoid, especially to a doctor, but I always get bogged down by degrees of touch. Example: say it's likely that she's got a cut on her hand or cuticle or somewhere else on her body, and maybe she touches it or rubs it (even accidentally) and then handles an assignment that she submits to me that comes in contact with a wound I have on my own hand/body. I think of these scenarios all the time and I realize they're sometimes paranoid and OCD-related but if one can get HIV by having a wound exposed to blood, is it really THAT outrageous for me to think accidental/unintentional contact with infected blood CAN happen, even if the chance is extremely low?

Answer

Hello,

". . . Is it really THAT outrageous to think accidental/unintentional contact with infected blood CAN happen, even if the chance is extremely low?" YEP! It really is "THAT outrageous." The only way you're going to be at any risk of contracting HIV from your student is if you decide to have unsafe sex with her or share intravenous syringes!

Your OCD may be better from your four-showers-per-day period, but it's still OCC (out of control)! I suggest you have ongoing psychotherapy with a licensed mental health professional to help you cope with your ongoing irrational fears.

Good luck.

Dr. Bob