Occupational Exposure to HIV
If you are having any symptoms or have any questions, please call 811 to speak with a registered nurse 24 hours a day.
How can HIV be transmitted?
Blood, semen, vaginal secretions, vomitus, breast milk or pus from a person who is infected with HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) may contain HIV and may cause infection. The risk of acquiring HIV from a needle-stick injury is less than 1%, and the risk of infection from exposure not involving a puncture or a cut (such as a splash of body fluid onto the skin or the mucous membrane) is less than 0.1%. The risk of HIV infection from a human bite is between 0.1% and 1%.
“Clear” body fluids such as tears, saliva, sweat and urine contain little or no virus and do not transmit HIV unless they are contaminated with blood.
What should I do if I think I have been exposed?
If a skin puncture has occurred, induce bleeding at the puncture site by applying gentle pressure as you wash the area with soap and water. If skin or mucous membranes have been splashed by body fluid, immediately rinse the area thoroughly with water.
Follow your workplace policy on reporting what happened and investigation.
When do I first need to get medical care?
Seek immediate assessment and treatment from your employee health program, your healthcare provider or the emergency department. If anti-HIV medication is indicated, it should be taken as soon as possible. If you have a skin puncture or cut, you might need a tetanus toxoid booster, depending on the nature of the injury. Your healthcare provider will need to ask questions about the incident and other details in order to determine what treatment, if any, is necessary.
What will I need to know about the source person?
Provide the following information on the source patient when reporting to employee health program:
- Medical Record Number (MRN)
- Date of Birth
- Attending physician name (Employee/physician) and medical delegate (resident/intern) and respective pager numbers.
Should I receive post-exposure HIV prophylaxis?
Based on you assessment, your healthcare provider may advise you to take medication to reduce your risk of developing HIV. Your healthcare provider may also give medicine to protect you against hepatitis and syphilis. You will need baseline blood work, especially for evaluation of bone marrow, liver and kidney function. These tests will be repeated during the course of therapy.
Does prophylactic treatment work?
Early post‑exposure prophylaxis can reduce the risk of HIV infection tenfold. Even if infection occurs despite prophylaxis, early suppression of the virus can lower the “set point” for viral load and slow the course of HIV disease substantially.
Does the treatment have side effects?
Some of the medicines used can cause side effects. For example, zidovudine may cause headache, fatigue, insomnia and gastrointestinal symptoms (nausea, diarrhea, abdominal discomfort). In rare instances, lamivudine may cause pancreatitis and gastrointestinal symptoms. Indinavir and saquinavir may cause gastrointestinal upset and diarrhea. Indinavir has also been associated with kidney stones. Two liters of fluid should be taken daily to reduce this risk.
How can I protect others from possible exposure to HIV?
Until HIV infection is ruled out, you should avoid the exchange of body fluids during sex, postpone pregnancy, and refrain from blood or organ donation. If you are breastfeeding, your baby’s healthcare provider may ask you to switch to formula feeding.
When should I be retested for HIV?
HIV testing may be repeated at 3 months and 6 months. Nearly all people found to be negative at 3 months are confirmed to be uninfected. However, it is recommended to have retesting up to 6 months following the last possible exposure. If you have not formed antibodies to HIV by 6 months, then infection did not occur. Until then, you should report and seek medical evaluation if you have any acute illness. An acute illness, especially if accompanied by fever, rash or swollen lymph nodes, may be a sign of HIV infection or another medical condition.
How can I cope with my feelings?
It is natural to feel anger, self-recrimination, fear and depression after occupational exposure to HIV. During the difficult time of prevention therapy and waiting, you may want to seek support from employee-assistance programs or local mental health professionals.