[Question #6463] Infection Risk

15 months ago
Hello Doctors,

I visited a Victoria's Secret Store today afternoon, where, while removing a piece of clothing from a hanger (made of wood, metal and rubber) i got cut on my right thumb. I dont actually know which part of the hanger cut me. I am now worried that just as i got cut what if some else got cut with the hanger and it had blood that was contaminated with HIV/HepB/HepC viruses. What is my risk from this particular incident? Should i get myself tested?
H. Hunter Handsfield, MD
H. Hunter Handsfield, MD
15 months ago
Welcome to the forum. Thanks for your question and your confidence in our services.

Nobody in the world ever caught HIV by being cut with a sharp instrument in the environment, with the possible exception of a drug injection needle that contained blood. (Even this has no proved cases that ever happened!) Even if somehow a person with a blood borne infection had cut herself on the same hangar, it would have had to have been within the preceding 1-2 minutes and there would have to be enough blood to be obvious. Nobody ever catches HIV of viral hepatitis from the envionrmnet. You should not be tested on account of this event.

Part of your fear probably comes from inaccurate public information, which may simply list "bood contact" as a risk. But it's not just any blood contact. You could be at risk if you attended an auto wreck (or unfortunately in our world, a shooting) and helped a badly injured person with your hands soaked with their blood, and cut yourself (maybe on a sharp piece of broken bone) -- and if that person had HIV or hepatitis B or C -- you might get infected. But the sort of day to day minor blood contact we all sometimes experience really isn't any risk. For example, don't be fearful of helping a friend or work colleague who gets a paper cut or a skinned knee, including cleaning the wound that involves touching her blood.

Preventing HIV and the hepatitis viruses is simple and straightforward:  If you don't have unsafe sex with high risk partners and do not share drug injection equipment with other persons, you will never be at risk. 

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

HHH, MD
---
15 months ago
Thank you so much for your reply to my query. Your explanation has certainly helped. I would like a little more clarity on what you stated ( as i did not follow its exact meaning) ... 

"Even if somehow a person with a blood borne infection had cut herself on the same hangar, it would have had to have been within the preceding 1-2 minutes and there would have to be enough blood to be obvious."

Thank you.
H. Hunter Handsfield, MD
H. Hunter Handsfield, MD
15 months ago
Drying kills these viruses, so only wet blood could possibly be a source of infection. The tiny amount of blood on a sharp metal point would dry very quickly. So even if an HIV infected person cut herself in the same way, if it were more than 1-2 minutes before you, there would be no risk.

But this isn't the important thing. See the first senence of my reply: nobody has ever caught HIV in this way. If it never happens, the biological reasons don't matter. Got it?
---
15 months ago
Thank you once again Dr. Handsfield for your reply. I understand that this is a fairly uncommon means of transmission, as you stated in your prior replies. I only got worried as i was unsure if there could be a possibility of somebody else getting cut within 1-2mins before it happened to me, as i had just entered that section and it was the first garment i had picked up. Would this change you assessment of my situation? Is there a need to be tested? 
H. Hunter Handsfield, MD
H. Hunter Handsfield, MD
15 months ago
Even if you knew a person known to have HIV used the garment and possible injured herself in the same way 1-2 minutes before you, I would advise that there was no risk to you and no need for tesing. It's really not accurate to call this "a fairly uncommon means of transmission". A better characterization would be "microscopically low risk of transmission, if any risk at all."

That completes the two follow-up questions and replies included with each initial question and so ends this thread. I hope the disucssion has been helpful.
---