Another thing to panic about: chewed food

CDC researchers have reported three cases where kids were apparently infected with HIV through food fed to them after it had first been chewed by someone else. Three. Out of over 60 million infections worldwide.

In order to be consistent with my earlier stand on the risks of transmitting HIV while on ARVs, I’m going to have to say that we should tell HIV-infected mothers (and fathers, and aunts, and nannies) that if they have bleeding gums or mouth sores, they shouldn’t use their mouths as a blender for their infant’s food. But of course this is going to go round the web (as in here and here and here and here), and eventually get turned in to “HIV can be transmitted through saliva”. NOT what the researchers are saying (note the bleeding gums proviso), but distracting none the less. UNAIDS will issue statements, there will be consultations, discussions and more research. And all of those things will distract time and attention from the dirty needles, untreated STIs and unprotected anal sex that have contributed stratospherically more than three infections in 15 years, and that continue to do so.

The report was made at the 15th Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections, which has an exemplary website, and there are more details from Larry Kaufman in the New York Times.

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This post was published on 07/02/08 in Science.

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  1. Comment by Lee Rudolph, 08/02/08, 01:14:

    I am put obscurely in mind of the Kimberley Bergalis case, which was surely a large (if not the major) impetus to the present policy that all dentists and dental assistants wear gloves during all procedures. Probably that’s a public health win, overall (though it would be interesting to know how many, of the surely fairly large number, of dentists and dental assistants who developed latex allergies [before nitrile gloves became commonly available] have since died of anaphylactic shock; even 2, I believe, would double the number of known cases of HIV transmission from professional to patient–assuming Bergalis *was* infected by her dentist, which I don’t think was ever satisfactorily established).

    And since I’ve mentioned gloves…at least the dental professionals (and medical professionals generally) can be assumed to understand what the point is, and that donning them anew for each patient encounter is not merely a superstitious ritual. My observations (purely anecdotal) of the use of gloves by food handlers indicates that they (reasonably or not) think the whole thing’s either a sham or a necessary obeisance to the Great God Science–but they don’t actually, you know, *get the point*. Thus yesterday I saw the butcher at my local supermarket wipe his dripping nose on *his* rubber glove. The day before, ditto for the short-order cook at the cafeteria grill. Etc., etc.

    Meanwhile there are wipe dispensers at the doors of the supermarket, dispensing antibacterial wipes to be used on the handles of the shopping carts. Again, etc., etc.

    Okay, irrelevant rant over. As you were.

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