[Question #5318] Heptatitis C and Hiv risk

21 months ago
I had a friend that had a small cut and she asked for a bandaid.  Without thinking I got some Neosporin and applied it with my finger to her small bleeding cut.  I then washed my hands with soap and water and applied hand sanitizer.   I then looked at my hand and fingers and all I saw was a small cut that had been healing for awhile.  The scab had already fallen off.  I might have had a hangnail or two but did not see any blood on my hand.  Am I at risk ?  I ask my friend if there was anything I should be concerned about and she said no.  I don't know very well.  Should I be tested?  
H. Hunter Handsfield, MD
H. Hunter Handsfield, MD
21 months ago
Welcome to the forum. Thanks for your confidence in our services.

The bottom line is that there is little or no risk for hepatitis C or other blood borne infections from events like this. Here is a statement I have used in replying to other quesitons similar to yours (more commonly about HIV, but the issues are the same).

We in the health professions have done a poor job in educating the public about health risks from blood exposures. At one time there was a very casual attitude:  doctors didn’t care much if blood got on our hands or clothing (aside from appearances), and most of the public had the same perspective. Who cared if they contacted blood while helping a child or a friend with a cut, or assisting at an accident scene? That attitude, we now know, was too cavalier:  we paid too little attention to known risks and didn’t even know about others. However, I think public health messaging, and public attitudes, have gone too far the other way. Virtually any blood contact is often described as risky, and many people now are inappropriately frightened about contacting blood either directly from bleeding persons or in the environment. The fact is that the risks of HIV, hepatitis B or C, or other blood-borne infections from such events are very low. Few if any persons have ever acquired these infections except by direct blood exchange, e.g. from transfusions (before infection testing prevented them), shared needles, or sexual contact. There certainly is no significant risk from exposure to blood on contaminated surfaces or personal items used by bleeding persons, especially if the blood has dried. Even wet blood in the mouth or eyes carries only theoretical risk of HIV transmission, with no cases ever known; the same probably is true of hepatitis B and C. If you physically come into contact with obvious or apparent wet blood, it’s common sense to try to avoid touching the mouth or eyes, and to wash with soap and water. But such events never require testing for HIV or hepatitis.

Keep doing the humanitarian thing:  help your friends, neighbors, and family members if they need your assistance after various cuts and wounds. And don't worry about infections as a result. As said above, wash your hands afterward and then no worries.

I hope these comments are helpful. Let me know if anything isn't clear.

HHH, MD
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21 months ago
Thank you so much as I have been concerned about this.  Just one more question.  More out of curiosity than not.  Does the neosporin have any effect on these viruses?
21 months ago
If I had a paper cut or superficial cut that was a day or two old would I be at risk?  I didn’t see any on my hand but just thought I would ask anyway.  Thank you again.
H. Hunter Handsfield, MD
H. Hunter Handsfield, MD
21 months ago
Neosporin's active ingredient is an antibiotic, and antibiotics are active only against bacteria, not viruses. However, it's also petroleum jelly, which might reduce the ability of a virus to enter through a cut. But there would be zero risk even without neosporin or any other treatment, so in reality this makes no difference at all.

To the extent there might be risk from exposure of a cut to blood, a fresh cut would be higher risk than an older one. Even after only an hour or so, blood clotting forms a barrier making infection less likely. But here again, this also makes no difference. You'd have to be exposed to a whole lot of wet blood having direct contact with a fresh would for this sort of exposure to carry any risk -- like helping someone with a major injury in an auto wreck or after a shooting. As in my main message above, there has never been a known case of hep C or any other bloodborne virus being transmitted in this manner.

So no worries at all. Put this out of your mind.
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21 months ago
Thank you so much.
H. Hunter Handsfield, MD
H. Hunter Handsfield, MD
21 months ago
You're welcome.  Thanks for the thanks -- I'm glad to have helped.---