A 36-year-old man is being charged with three felonies, including transmission of HIV, after Chicago area police said he bit a male officers thumb and broke the skin. Transmission of HIV via a bite is highly unlikely, says Dr. Paul OKeefe, an infectious disease specialist at Loyola University Medical Center. OKeefe, who did not treat the officer, explained that while saliva does carry traces of the virus, it is in such low quantities that it is not considered harmful. The accepted medical belief is that an HIV-positive person can kiss an uninfected person without fear of transmission of the virus.
The risk to the officer is extremely low, and I say that because it was from a persons saliva, which typically doesnt contain any blood, says OKeefe, a professor and vice-chairman, Interim division director, infectious disease at Loyolas Stritch School of Medicine. The only risk would have been if the person doing the biting had HIV and also had his own blood in his mouth, perhaps from a recent injury.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that more than 1 million people are living with HIV in the U.S. and 1 in 5 is unaware of the infection. Every 9 ½ minutes, someone in the U.S. is infected with HIV. Thursday, Dec. 1, is World AIDS Day, created to increase awareness of the infectious disease.
OKeefe oversees Loyolas multidisciplinary HIV clinic where more than 300 HIV-infected individuals are cared for each year. This case offers an excellent opportunity for continued public health education about how HIV-infection occurs, he said. Here are some health facts about HIV transmission from OKeefe:
- HIV can potentially be transmitted through razors and toothbrushes because of the potential for blood so we recommend these personal care items not be shared.
- HIV cannot be transmitted from a shared beverage or food item, or shared eating utensils so HIV-infected individuals do not need separate cutlery or dishware.
- Condoms are essential for the prevention of HIV but are not perfect.
- HIV cannot be transmitted through a toilet seat or other shared facility.
OKeefe said the routine treatment for potential HIV-infection is anti-HIV drugs for one month and then a test for the virus.
The chances of this officer being exposed to this persons blood is quite small, he says. OKeefe estimates a less than 0.3 percent chance of transmission for a bite, such as in this officers case. According to the CDC, there have been documented cases of transmission because of a bite, but it is very rare and have occurred only if there was severe trauma with extensive tissue damage and the presence of blood.
OKeefe is surprised at the persistence of certain stereotypes. Certain beliefs continued today are HIV myths that I thought had been disspelled 15 years ago, he says. Obviously, more education is still needed.