- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 8, 2015

HIV infections acquired at work have become very rare: In the last 14 years, only one known health care worker — who was stuck by a needle in a lab — has become infected on the job with HIV, the federal government said Thursday.

Since 1985, when the AIDS epidemic began, 58 people are confirmed to have acquired HIV on the job, while another 150 “possible” cases have been reported, said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Although the rareness of these “occupationally acquired” HIV cases may be due to underreporting, “it might indicate the effectiveness” of prevention strategies and training of health care worker, and efforts to reduce vital loads in HIV patients, said Dr. M. Patricia Joyce and colleagues at the CDC’s Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention.

CDC data show that between 1985 and 1995, dozens of people, including nurses, doctors and lab technicians, were infected with HIV at work. The majority got the deadly virus from accidental needle sticks, but others became infected from handling infected body fluids or dressing wounds.

The CDC began requiring “universal precautions” in 1987, which was followed by years of additional rules, to prevent such infections.

Also, since 1996, the agency has recommended antiretroviral medicine for anyone suspected of being exposed to HIV at work.

The results were encouraging: Between 1996 and 1999, there were three confirmed cases of work-related HIV infection, and since 2000, just one case — a lab technician who sustained “a needle puncture while working with a live HIV culture in 2008,” the CDC said.

The 150 possible cases refer to people who whose job duties might have exposed them to HIV, but lack a documented workplace exposure, the agency said.

• Cheryl Wetzstein can be reached at cwetzstein@washingtontimes.com.

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