Frequently Repeated Rumors about HIV Transmission

Armen Hareyan's picture
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Did a Texas child die of a heroin overdose after being stuck by a used needle found on a playground?

This story was investigated and found to be a hoax. To become overdosed on a drug from a used needle and syringe, a person would have to have a large amount of the drug injected directly into their body. A needle stick injury such as that mentioned in the story would not lead to a large enough injection to cause a drug overdose. In addition, drug users would leave very little drug material in a discarded syringe after they have injected. If such an incident were to happen, there would likely be concerns about possible blood borne infections, such as human immunodeficiency virus and hepatitis B or C. The risk of these infections from an improperly disposed of needle, such as that described in the story, are extremely low.

Can HIV be transmitted through contact with unused feminine (sanitary) pads?

HIV cannot be transmitted through the use of new, unused feminine pads. The human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, is a virus that is passed from one person to another through blood-to-blood and sexual contact with someone who is infected with HIV. In addition, infected pregnant women can pass HIV to their babies during pregnancy or delivery, as well as through breast feeding. Although some people have been concerned that HIV might be transmitted in other ways, such as through air, water, insects, or common objects, no scientific evidence supports this. Even though no one has gotten HIV from touching used feminine pads, used pads should be wrapped and properly disposed of so no one comes in contact with blood.

Is a Weekly World News story that claims CDC has discovered a mutated version of HIV that is transmitted through the air true?

This story is not true. It is unfortunate that such stories, which may frighten the public, are being circulated on the Internet.

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the virus that causes AIDS, is spread by sexual contact (anal, vaginal, or oral) or by sharing needles and/or syringes with someone who is infected with HIV.

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Babies born to HIV-infected women may become infected before or during birth or through breast feeding.

Many scientific studies have been done to look at all the possible ways that HIV is transmitted. These studies have not shown HIV to be transmitted through air, water, insects, or casual contact.

I have read stories on the Internet about people getting stuck by needles in phone booth coin returns, movie theater seats, gas pump handles, and other places. One story said that CDC reported similar incidents about improperly discarded needles and syringes. Are these stories true?

CDC has received inquiries about a variety of reports or warnings about used needles left by HIV-infected injection drug users in coin return slots of pay phones, the underside of gas pump handles, and on movie theater seats. These reports and warnings have been circulated on the Internet and by e-mail and fax. Some reports have falsely indicated that CDC "confirmed" the presence of HIV in the needles. CDC has not tested such needles nor has CDC confirmed the presence or absence of HIV in any sample related to these rumors. The majority of these reports and warnings appear to have no foundation in fact.

CDC was informed of one incident in Virginia of a needle stick from a small-gauge needle (believed to be an insulin needle) in a coin return slot of a pay phone. The incident was investigated by the local police department. Several days later, after a report of this police action appeared in the local newspaper, a needle was found in a vending machine but did not cause a needle-stick injury.

Discarded needles are sometimes found in the community outside of health care settings. These needles are believed to have been discarded by persons who use insulin or are injection drug users. Occasionally the "public" and certain groups of workers (e.g., sanitation workers or housekeeping staff) may sustain needle-stick injuries involving inappropriately discarded needles. Needle-stick injuries can transfer blood and blood-borne pathogens (e.g., hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and HIV), but the risk of transmission from discarded needles is extremely low.

CDC does not recommend testing discarded needles to assess the presence or absence of infectious agents in the needles. Management of exposed persons should be done on a case-by-case evaluation of (1) the risk of a blood-borne pathogen infection in the source and (2) the nature of the injury. Anyone who is injured from a needle stick in a community setting should contact their physician or go to an emergency room as soon as possible. The health care professional should then report the injury to the local or state health department. CDC is not aware of any cases where HIV has been transmitted by a needle-stick injury outside a health care setting.

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Centers for Disease Control & Prevention
National Center for HIV, STD, and TB Prevention
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Divisions of HIV/AIDS Prevention

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