In many countries for many years health care workers have become infected with HIV as a result of their work. The main cause of infection in occupational settings is exposure to HIV-infected blood via a percutaneous injury (i.e. from needles, instruments, bites which break the skin, etc.). The average risk for HIV transmission after such exposure to infected blood is low - about 3 per 1,000 injuries. Nevertheless, this is still understandably an area of considerable concern for many health care workers.
Certain specific factors may mean a percutaneous injury carries a higher risk, for example:
If percutaneous exposure occurs then the site of exposure should be washed liberally with soap and water but without scrubbing. Bleeding should be encouraged by pressing gently around the site of the injury (but taking care not to press immediately on the injury site). It is best to do this under a running water tap.
There are a small number of instances when HIV has been acquired through contact with non-intact skin or mucous membranes (i.e. splashes of infected blood in the eye). Research suggests that the risk of HIV infection after mucous membrane exposure is less than 1 in 1000. If mucocutaneous exposure occurs then the affected area should be washed thoroughly with soap and water. If the eye is affected, it should be irrigated thoroughly.
If intact skin is exposed to HIV infected blood then there is no risk of HIV transmission. Although infection through needlestick injury does not often occur, it can be devasting for the person concerned.