Human Immunodeficiency Virus Transmission Between Surgeons and Patients in Orthopaedic Surgery

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Surgeons are at risk for contracting human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) from patients. The risk of HIV transmission between patient and surgeon and the potential strategies to reduce the risk of HIV transmission are important. Continuous occupational exposure makes the risk of HIV transmission greater for surgeons than patients. Although the risk of seroconversion after a single exposure is relatively low, the risk for surgeons is more appropriately expressed as a cumulative lifetime risk. The estimated cumulative risk of HIV seroconversion for surgeons may be as high as 1 to 4%. Currently available strategies to prevent HIV transmission require knowledge of the mechanisms of exposure. Adequate barriers, such as double-gloving, waterproof outerwear, and face protection, should be worn for most, if not all, orthopaedic procedures. Additional specific strategies, however, are required to minimize sharp injuries. Surgeons should report any significant exposure to the occupational health department of their institution. Hospitals should have appropriate guidelines and procedures for counseling exposed surgeons, HIV testing of source patients, consideration of zidovudine prophylaxis, and disability insurance policies for surgeons who are occupationally infected with HIV.

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