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I'm worried about HIV transmission at work. How could transmission happen?
There is generally no risk of contracting HIV by working with someone who is HIV-positive. However, in extremely limited circumstances, occupational HIV transmission may be an issue.
People working in healthcare have a greater risk of occupational exposure to HIV than the general workplace. But the risk of HIV transmission for healthcare workers remains negligible except for those involved in surgery procedures. Only five cases had been reported across the whole of the UK by 2005 and in almost every case, exposure resulted from a needlestick injury. Public Health England has issued special guidance on the employment of healthcare workers with HIV.In March 2010, a new EU directive to prevent needlestick ('sharps') injuries was welcomed by public services union UNISON after extensive campaigning.
To implement the directive, the government has introduced the Health and Safety (Sharp Instruments in Healthcare) Regulations 2013. These Regulations require health sector employers to introduce arrangements for the safe use and disposal of medical sharps, to provide information and training for employees, and to record, investigate and take action following a sharps injury.
Although the incidence of HIV transmission from sharps injuries is low, the stress caused through fear of HIV infection is more significant. Hazards magazine has further information on needlestick injuries.
A small number of specialist jobs, such as tattooists and body piercers, also have a small risk of transmission, but no case has ever been reported.
HIV transmission involving contact with blood and certain other body fluids can be avoided by adopting 'universal precautions'. These include:
- gloves, gowns or aprons, masks, and eye protection;
- careful handling and disposal of needles and other sharp objects;
- hand washing before and after a procedure;
- use of safe disposal for contaminated waste; and
- proper disinfection of contaminated equipment.