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What precautions should family members of an HIV positive person take?

Thursday, 30 December 2004
Answered by: Dr. L.M. Nath
Consultant, Community Medicine,

New Delhi
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Q. My father is 70 years old. He has recently been detected positive for HIV. The CD-4 test shows that he is in the last stage. What precautions do I have to undertake to keep the rest of my family members from getting infected? Few days back he got hurt on his head. By the time we noticed it the blood dried up. My wife unknowingly, without using any gloves or cotton applied soframycin on the wound. As soon as I saw her, I instructed her to wash her hands in hot water with soap. What are the chances in such case of getting infected? If you touch the infected blood (not dried) then is it safe to just wash your hands with water and normal soap? What if a person puts the finger in his mouth with the infected blood on it? What if a HIV positive waiter gets a cut while preparing a meal and the blood gets mixed with the food, which is not further boiled? Can a HIV infected person gain weight (like 4 - 5 kg in a year)? There are different opinions about the spread of virus while kissing. Please comment.

A.  Touching fresh HIV infected blood with bare hands does not carry any risk if there are no cuts or infections on the hands. Because there are often small cuts and injuries on the hands, it is recommended that those who frequently come across this situation use surgical gloves when handling blood. This applies especially those who work with blood that is, or may be, infected with HIV such as laboratory technicians etc. In general washing with soap and water is enough precaution. However as you look after a HIV infected father, it is a good idea to keep some weak household bleach or a 2% solution of sodium hypochlorite to deal with spills etc. This solution is very effective against HIV. However, it should not be applied to any wound. There is no danger from a HIV infected waiter or cook. In the very unlikely event that you describe and even if some blood did fall into food, the quantity is likely to be very small and the risk minimal. Yes, a HIV infected person can gain weight. Until AIDS develops, a HIV infected person is like anybody else and there is no reason why he or she can not gain weight. The exchange of significant amounts of saliva, for example during wet kissing does carry a risk if HIV but this risk is much less than unprotected sex. It is not the saliva so much as the presence of blood from small cuts in the oral cavity and infected gums that is the cause of concern. Was the test result for you father confirmed by a second/third test? If not please immediately get another test done. Caring for a HIV positive person does not constitute a risk for the family as infection can only be spread via unprotected sex or shared blood. Just practice the usual good hygiene practices.

A.  Touching fresh HIV infected blood with bare hands does not carry any risk if there are no cuts or infections on the hands. Because there are often small cuts and injuries on the hands, it is recommended that those who frequently come across this situation use surgical gloves when handling blood. This applies especially those who work with blood that is, or may be, infected with HIV such as laboratory technicians etc. In general washing with soap and water is enough precaution. However as you look after a HIV infected father, it is a good idea to keep some weak household bleach or a 2% solution of sodium hypochlorite to deal with spills etc. This solution is very effective against HIV. However, it should not be applied to any wound. There is no danger from a HIV infected waiter or cook. In the very unlikely event that you describe and even if some blood did fall into food, the quantity is likely to be very small and the risk minimal. Yes, a HIV infected person can gain weight. Until AIDS develops, a HIV infected person is like anybody else and there is no reason why he or she can not gain weight. The exchange of significant amounts of saliva, for example during wet kissing does carry a risk if HIV but this risk is much less than unprotected sex. It is not the saliva so much as the presence of blood from small cuts in the oral cavity and infected gums that is the cause of concern. Was the test result for you father confirmed by a second/third test? If not please immediately get another test done. Caring for a HIV positive person does not constitute a risk for the family as infection can only be spread via unprotected sex or shared blood. Just practice the usual good hygiene practices.

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