A 19 year-old man from Lewes in Sussex who bit two police officers whilst telling them he had AIDS, and who pleaded guilty to two counts of assault causing actual bodily harm and one count of assaulting a police officer, has been jailed for eight months by a judge at Brighton Crown Court.
According to a brief report in The Argus, it is unclear whether the man was, in fact, HIV-positive. Instead, the story focuses on the 'harm' of Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) that the two police officers took following the incident.
[The man] drew blood from two officers as they arrested him at his home on April 16 for failing to turn up in court for another offence. Police said both officers were sick from the side effects of the medication they were immediately given to try to limit the chances of infection.An earlier story about the incident in The Argus also overplays the risks of HIV transmission from a bite.
A wanted man bit three police officers before telling them: “I’ve got Aids.” They now face an agonising wait to find out if they have contracted the HIV virus which causes the deadly syndrome. Senior police condemned the attack, which came during a routine call to find a man reported to have failed to appear in court. Sussex Police said the man drew blood from each officer when he bit them on the arms and legs.They have now been told they must wait several weeks before having blood tests to show if they have caught the HIV virus, which causes Aids.
Each of the victims was given anti-Aids drugs – and spent the next 24 hours being sick because of heavy side effects. They are all due to return to hospital for blood tests in six weeks’ time...A sample of the man’s blood has also been taken to find out whether he has HIV. Chief Superintendent Robin Smith, head of the East Sussex division of Sussex Police, said: “This goes to show what police officers and, to a degree, police staff can face while doing the job of keeping the community safe...“It is sickening that people choose to bite police officers and suggest they have anything that could be contagious. These three officers now have a very anxious time ahead and so have their families and their colleagues.”
A 1998 scientific journal article examining the relationship between risk, fear and HIV transmission among police in the United States highlighted:
The policing literature on fear and risk and the epidemiological literature on HIV transmission suggest that officers' fears are not based so much on their objective risk of becoming infected. Instead, they may stem from the uncertain and unpredictable nature of police work and possibly from officers' discomfort with HIV's association with homosexuality and drug use.It then estimates the actual risks of transmission based on the kinds of exposures that police come across in the course of their work:
Because of the fragility of the virus when outside the human body, however, the risk associated with each of these ranges from virtually nonexistent to very small, especially in comparison with the risk associated with sharing injection equipment or engaging in unprotected sex. According to the CDC, 99.7% of needlestick/cut exposures and 99.9% of eye, nose, or mouth exposures do not lead to infection. The risk after exposure of the skin to HIV infected blood is estimated to be less than 0.1%A 2007 CDC Factsheet on HIV and transmission risks notes that although transmission is possible, it is extremely unlikely.
In 1997, CDC published findings from a state health department investigation of an incident that suggested blood-to-blood transmission of HIV by a human bite. There have been other reports in the medical literature in which HIV appeared to have been transmitted by a bite. Severe trauma with extensive tissue tearing and damage and presence of blood were reported in each of these instances. Biting is not a common way of transmitting HIV. In fact, there are numerous reports of bites that did not result in HIV infection.Transmission via oral sex is considered much more likely and yet PEP is not offered to people for whom oral sex is their only admitted transmission risk.
What is required, then, is better education for the police to understand that their risks of HIV transmission whilst going about their business are so low as not to require PEP.