Loyola HIV specialist debunks myths and stereotypes
MAYWOOD, Ill. – A 36-year-old man is being charged with three felonies, including transmission of HIV, after Chicago area police said he bit a male officer’s thumb and broke the skin.
Transmission of HIV via a bite is highly unlikely, said Dr. Paul O’Keefe, an infectious disease specialist at Loyola University Medical Center. O’Keefe, who did not treat the officer, said that while saliva does carry traces of the virus, it is in such low quantities that it is not considered harmful, which is why doctors say a HIV-positive person can kiss an uninfected person without any danger.
“The risk to the officer is extremely low, and I say that because it was from a person’s saliva, which typically doesn’t contain any blood,” said O’Keefe, a professor and vice chairman, interim division director, Infectious Disease at Loyola’s 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."
HIV Do’s and Don’ts
O’Keefe oversees Loyola’s multidisciplinary HIV clinic, which cares for more than 300 HIV-infected people each year. “This officer’s case offers an excellent opportunity for continued public health education about how HIV infection occurs,” he said.
Here are some HIV facts from Dr. O’Keefe:
“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 with 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."
Fear HIV Infection?
O’Keefe said the routine treatment for a 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 person’s blood is quite small,” he said.
O’Keefe put the chance of being infected through a bite at less than 0.3 percent.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there have been documented cases of transmission via a bite, but it is “very rare” and only occurred if there was “severe trauma with extensive tissue damage and the presence of blood."
O’Keefe is surprised at the persistence of certain stereotypes. “Certain beliefs that continue today are HIV myths that I thought had been dispelled 15 years ago,” he said. “Obviously, more education is still needed.”