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HIV Infection in Health Professionals

Health professionals are not considered at high risk for HIV infection, because they use protection (such as gloves, masks, and goggles) when dealing with blood or body fluids.

  • The chances of becoming infected after being stuck or cut with an instrument that is contaminated with HIV-infected blood are about 1 out of 300.1
  • The chances of becoming infected if HIV-infected blood is splashed in the eye, nose, or mouth are about 1 out of 1,000.1

There probably isn't much risk of getting HIV if contaminated blood comes into contact with intact skin. But the risk may be higher if contaminated blood touches cut, scraped, or broken skin.

The degree of risk depends on:

  • How much blood the person is exposed to.
  • The amount of HIV present in the blood. People who have symptoms of early HIV infection and those who are very sick with AIDS tend to have greater amounts of HIV in their blood.
  • Whether the person seeks treatment with medicines, such as zidovudine (ZDV).

If you are exposed to HIV on the job, talk with someone who specializes in treating HIV. He or she can help you weigh the pros and cons of treatment to reduce your chances of getting HIV. Treatment recommendations depend on how you were exposed and what you were exposed to. If you do have treatment, your treatment should start as soon as possible after exposure and no later than 72 hours after exposure.

Protect yourself from accidental exposure by disposing of sharp objects properly and wearing protective gloves, gowns, and eye and face protection. It is likely that work guidelines are available that will tell you what to do if you are exposed to HIV. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the following precautions:

  1. Immediately following an exposure to blood:
    • Wash needle sticks and cuts with soap and water.
    • Use water to flush splashed blood from your nose, mouth, or skin.
    • Wash your eyes with a steady stream of clean water, saltwater solution (saline), or a sterile irrigant.
  2. Do not squeeze a puncture wound or cut, and do not wash the affected area with antiseptics or bleach.
  3. Following any blood exposure:
    • Report the exposure to the department that is responsible for managing exposures, such as occupational health or infection control. Prompt reporting is essential. In some cases, medicine treatment may be recommended and should be started right away, preferably within 1 to 2 hours.
    • Discuss with your doctor the possible risks of infection with the hepatitis B or hepatitis C virus. People who work in the health care industry should be vaccinated against hepatitis B. The vaccine is safe and effective in preventing hepatitis B.

For more information about testing and treatment after a job-related exposure to HIV, contact the CDC National Prevention Information Network at 1-800-458-5231 or National Institutes of Health (NIH) AIDSinfo at 1-800-HIV-0440 (1-800-448-0440).

Citations

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2005). Updated U.S. Public Health Services guidelines for the management of occupational exposures to HIV and recommendations for postexposure prophylaxis. MMWR, 50(RR-09): 1–17. Available online: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/rr5409a1.htm.
By Healthwise Staff
E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Peter Shalit, MD, PhD - Internal Medicine
Last Revised April 5, 2012

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