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Health care workers and the risk of HIV exposure

| Apr 29, 2014 | Personal Injury

Human Immunodeficiency Virus is a disease that spreads throughout the body’s fluids, like blood and breast milk, and affects the cells that make up the human immune system. Over time, this virus can destroy so many of the body’s cells that it becomes incapable of fighting off diseases and illnesses. When this occurs, the HIV infection turns into AIDS.

HIV transmission

In terms of occupational exposure, medical professionals have the highest risk of contracting this disease. This is because doctors and nurses come into contact with blood and other bodily fluids on a regular basis as they care for people that are injured or ill. For example, a first responder may contract HIV if they are on the scene of an accident and the blood of a patient who has HIV accidentally enters into an open cut or sore on their hand. Additionally, patients do not always tell the medical personnel assisting them that they have this disease. Because of this, health care workers should protect themselves by:

  • Always wearing gloves and goggles when working with blood and other bodily fluids
  • Immediately washing their hands after coming into contact with these fluids
  • Carefully handling sharp medical objects during use

According to the CDC, as of 2010, there were 57 documented cases of health care workers who contracted HIV in the U.S. and 143 other possible transmissions. Although the CDC states that no documented cases of HIV transmission among medical professionals has been reported since 1999, it is possible that there are many underreported cases since employees are not required to report HIV contraction.

Treatment for HIV

Medical employees that believe they were exposed to the HIV virus should treat the situation as an emergency and notify their doctor as soon as soon as possible after the suspected contraction. While it takes three months for HIV to appear on a blood test, the use of antiretroviral drugs after a high-risk event can prevent the virus from spreading throughout the body. In order to be effective, these drugs must be taken within three days of possible exposure.

The Illinois Occupational Diseases Act

Under the Illinois Occupational Diseases Act, health care employees that are potentially exposed to or contracted HIV while performing their workplace duties are eligible to receive compensation for medical bills, disability payments and the emotional impact of the disease. Employees who wish to obtain benefits under this act are required to file a claim within three years of HIV contraction. When filing a claim under the Illinois Occupational Diseases Act, medical professionals must strictly adhere to filing guidelines. An attorney can assist with this process and ensure that the proper amount of compensation is received.