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Police officers are advised wrongly on HIV risk

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The Police Federation has today launched Protect the Protectors, a campaign highlighting the issue of assault on police officers.  NAT (National AIDS Trust) has raised concerns that case studies referring to spitting and biting incidents confirm police officers are put through unnecessary distress due to poor advice relating to the risk of HIV transmission.

Deborah Gold, Chief Executive at NAT, said: “The police officers participating in this campaign have been subject to degrading and harmful behaviour and this is completely unacceptable.  It is deeply concerning that, to add to the distress already caused to them, officers are given inaccurate and misleading information on the level of risk they face. The risk of contracting HIV from spitting, even if blood-stained, or from biting is extremely low, yet individuals appear to have been advised to wait to take HIV tests or even to take PEP (Post-exposure-prophylaxis) when seemingly unnecessary.”

One officer spoke of how he was advised not to visit a family member whose immune system was compromised due to their cancer treatment, another of how he was scared to hug his family, and another that he was prescribed PEP.  Deborah added, “no one should be made to feel this way. There is simply no medical basis that we can see for the advice these officers were given.  The risk to the officers and to those surrounding them appears entirely over-inflated and this is not only damaging to the individuals involved but also to public health messages about HIV and how it is and isn’t transmitted.”

“Inaccurate information such as this in the public sphere only adds to the stigma and fear which surrounds HIV and impacts on the day to day lives of many people living with HIV.”  

  • HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) can be transmitted through bodily fluids such as blood, semen, vaginal and rectal secretions.  It cannot be transmitted through saliva or urine.
  • HIV cannot be cured but is treatable. When diagnosed in good time and on treatment, people living with HIV can expect a normal life expectancy.  In the UK effective HIV treatment means that of those diagnosed with HIV, over 90% have an undetectable viral load and therefore cannot pass the virus on.  
  • If you think that you have been exposed to HIV through unprotected sex or sharing injecting equipment you can seek medical advice and consider taking PEP within 72 hours to prevent HIV infection.
  • Guidance on when PEP should be prescribed is provided through the British Association of Sexual Health and HIV here. PEP is not recommended following incidents of spitting or biting: https://www.bashh.org/documents/HIV%20PEPSE%202015%20Consultation%20Doc.pdf
  • Anyone can access an HIV test for free from a sexual health clinic.  Laboratory HIV tests are able to accurately detect an HIV infection as little as four weeks after exposure to the virus.  

For more information on HIV please see www.NAT.org.uk  

Notes to editors: 

About NAT

NAT (National AIDS Trust) is the UK’s leading charity dedicated to transforming society’s 
response to HIV. We provide fresh thinking, expertise and practical resources. We champion the rights of people living with HIV and campaign for change.

Shaping attitudes. Challenging injustice. Changing lives.