AIDS and HIV Infection • Preventing HIV transmission
Preventing transmission of HIV via blood and blood products
In industrialized countries, the risk of transmission of HIV via blood and blood products is very rare for each unit of blood transfused.
It is also very rare to contract HIV in the health care setting. For example, evidence from the USA indicates that health care workers who accidentally puncture their skin with a needle contaminated with HIV have an estimated risk of less than five in a 1000 (0.5 percent) of developing HIV infection.
Also, HIV is a fragile virus, meaning it is vulnerable to changes in temperature and other environmental factors, and has been shown not to be viable in dried blood for more than an hour. The concentration of virus particles of HIV per millilitre of blood is also very low in contrast to other viruses. Despite the low level of occupational risk posed by HIV, safe work practices should be followed at all times by laboratory personnel and health workers. Don't be afraid to ask your health care professional, clinic or hospital if they follow "universal precautions", or safety measures to prevent the transmission of HIV in health care settings.
If you must travel to areas of the world where the safety of the blood supply is not guaranteed, you should follow these measures:
- before you travel, identify sources of reliable medical help in your destination country;
- carry sterile disposable needles and syringes for your personal use (as part of the WHO medical kit);
- be aware of emergency medical evacuation procedures;
- reduce your risk of injury by following safety precautions such as using seatbelts and driving carefully; and
- if you are injured and lose blood, consider using a plasma substitute (crystalloids/colloids). If severe or acute blood loss has occurred, efforts should be made to ensure that the blood has been screened for HIV and hepatitis B virus.