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HIV and AIDS

How Long Does The HIV Virus Live Outside Of The Body?

03/25/2005

Question:

How long does AIDS virus live ouside of the body (for example, on the tip of a needle)? Employee had a scratch from the end of a vacutainer needle. Sharps in container were from a period of over a week. Any risk?

Answer:

In the case of an occupational needlestick/scratch injury from a vacutainer (hollow-bore) needle in a sharps container, there may be exposure to Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, and Human Immunodeficiency viruses. The time period over which the needles sat in the sharps container is probably not helpful. Hepatitis B virus has been demonstrated to survive in dried blood at room temperature on environmental surfaces for at least 1 week. Since there is no way of knowing how long the needle had been in the sharps container before the scratch took place, one should not assume anything about whether or not there is infectious HIV in the needle. The potentially exposed employee should contact Employee Health or otherwise follow the instructions in the Exposure Control Plan of the institution by which they are employed. For an occupational exposure of unknown source, one should consider the likelihood of bloodborne pathogen infection among the patients in the exposure setting when deciding whether to offer post-exposure prophylaxis. The needle should not be saved or submitted for testing to try to identify if it contains any infectious agents. The CDC published "Updated U.S. Public Health Service Guidelines for the Management of Occupational Exposures to HBV, HCV, and HIV and Recommendations for Postexposure Prophylaxis" in the June 29, 2001 (50(RR11);1-42) edition of the MMWR, which can be viewed on-line at http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/rr5011a1.htm This contains both recommendations and a summary of the data on which each recommendation was based.

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Response by:

Lisa A Haglund, MD Lisa A Haglund, MD
Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine
College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati