Health care workers and HIV transmission risks
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports there were 143 possible transmissions of HIV and 57 documented transmissions in 2010. The CDC also reported that less than 60 cases involving workers in health care have been documented. However, reporting an HIV transmission is not required by law and therefore the number could be greater.
Health care workers need to take careful precaution when working in areas of potential exposure. Bodily liquids such as pus, vomit, breast milk, blood, vaginal secretions and semen from HIV positive patients can put workers at risk of contracting the disease. Workers need to follow sanitary protocol, which includes wearing goggles and gloves, handling sharp medical instruments carefully to prevent cutting themselves and disposing of those instruments and other material in an appropriate manner.
In addition to these, workers should be careful to wash any area of their skin which may have come into contact with body fluids. Many times, patients will not divulge they are HIV positive so workers should always assume that a patient could be.
When workers suspect that they may have been exposed to the virus, they should seek immediate medical care from a doctor. During the visit, it is important for workers to provide as much information as possible about the event. The doctor may administer a tetanus toxoid booster shot if the situation calls for it or prescribe anti-HIV medications which can prevent the HIV virus from spreading if it is present. These medications need to be taken within 72 hours of the exposure for them to be effective.
Any type of injury should be reported to workers’ supervisors or employers as soon as possible. This enables workers to prepare for the possibility of filing for workers’ compensation benefits. It can take up to six months for an HIV infection to make itself known. However, it is possible that workers can apply for workers’ compensation to cover the costs of the anti-HIV medications during that period. In the event that workers become HIV positive, workers’ compensation benefits can provide for their other medical care and for any time that they may need to take away from their job.
Illinois workers can claim benefits under the state’s Workers’ Occupational Diseases Act. This act provides workers with the right to file for financial assistance even if they were loaned to another hospital or care center by their employer.