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From the MMWR
October 1998

Guidelines for the Management of Health-Care Worker Exposures to HIV and Recommendations for Postexposure Prophylaxis

Arch Dermatol. 1998;134(10):1317-1318. doi:10.1001/archderm.134.10.1317

HEALTH-CARE organizations should make available to their workers [HCWs] a system that includes written protocols for prompt reporting, evaluation, counseling, treatment, and follow-up of occupational exposures that may place HCWs at risk for acquiring any bloodborne infection, including HIV. Employers also are required to establish exposure-control plans, including postexposure follow-up for their employees, and to comply with incident reporting requirements mandated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Access to clinicians who can provide postexposure care should be available during all working hours, including nights and weekends. Antiretroviral agents for PEP [postexposure prophylaxis] should be available for timely administration (i.e., either by providing access to PEP drugs on-site or creating links with other facilities or providers to make them available off-site). Persons responsible for providing postexposure counseling should be familiar with evaluation and treatment protocols and the facility's procedures for obtaining drugs for PEP.

HCWs should be educated to report occupational exposures immediately after they occur, particularly because PEP is most likely to be effective if implemented as soon after the exposure as possible. HCWs who are at risk for occupational exposure to HIV should be taught the principles of postexposure management, including options for PEP, as part of job orientation and ongoing job training.

Exposure report

If an occupational exposure occurs, the circumstances and postexposure management should be recorded in the HCW's confidential medical record (usually on a form the facility designates for this purpose). Relevant information includes:

  • date and time of exposure;

  • details of the procedure being performed, including where and how the exposure occurred, and if the exposure was related to a sharp device, the type of device and how and when in the course of handling the device the exposure occurred;

  • details of the exposure, including the type and amount of fluid or material and the severity of the exposure (e.g., for a percutaneous exposure, depth of injury and whether the fluid was injected; or for a skin or mucous-membrane exposure, the estimated volume of material and duration of contact and the condition of the skin [e.g., chapped, abraded, or intact]);

  • details about the exposure source (i.e., whether the source material contained HIV or other bloodborne pathogen[s]), and if the source is an HIV-infected person, the stage of the disease, history of antiretroviral therapy, and viral load, if known; and

  • details about counseling, postexposure management, and follow-up.

Exposure management
Treatment of an Exposure Site

Wounds and skin sites that have been in contact with blood or body fluids should be washed with soap and water; mucous membranes should be flushed with water. There is no evidence that the use of antiseptics for wound care or expressing fluid by squeezing the wound further reduces the risk for HIV transmission. However, the use of antiseptics is not contraindicated. The application of caustic agents (e.g., bleach) or the injection of antiseptics or disinfectants into the wound is not recommended.

Assessment of Infection Risk

After an occupational exposure, the source person and the exposed HCW should be evaluated to determine the need for HIV PEP. Follow-up for hepatitis B virus and hepatitis C virus also should be conducted in accordance with previously published CDC recommendations.

Evaluation of Exposure. The exposure should be evaluated for potential to transmit HIV based on the type of body substance involved and the route and severity of the exposure. Exposures to blood, fluid containing visible blood, or other potentially infectious fluid (including semen; vaginal secretions; and cerebrospinal, synovial, pleural, peritoneal, pericardial, and amniotic fluids) or tissue through a percutaneous injury (i.e., needlestick or other penetrating sharp-related event) or through contact with a mucous membrane are situations that pose a risk for bloodborne transmission and require further evaluation. In addition, any direct contact (i.e., personal protective equipment either was not used or was ineffective in protecting skin or mucous membranes) with concentrated HIV in a research laboratory or production facility is considered an exposure that requires clinical evaluation to assess the need for PEP.

For skin exposures, follow-up is indicated if it involves direct contact with a body fluid listed above and there is evidence of compromised skin integrity (e.g., dermatitis, abrasion, or open wound). However, if the contact is prolonged or involves a large area of intact skin, postexposure follow-up may be considered on a case-by-case basis or if requested by the HCW.

For human bites, the clinical evaluation must consider possible exposure of both the bite recipient and the person who inflicted the bite. HIV transmission only rarely has been reported by this route. If a bite results in blood exposure to either person involved, postexposure follow-up, including consideration of PEP, should be provided.

Evaluation and Testing of an Exposure Source. The person whose blood or body fluids are the source of an occupational exposure should be evaluated for HIV infection. Information available in the medical record at the time of exposure (e.g., laboratory test results, admitting diagnosis, or past medical history) or from the source person may suggest or rule out possible HIV infection. Examples of information to consider when evaluating an exposure source for possible HIV infection include laboratory information (e.g., prior HIV testing results or results of immunologic testing [e.g., CD4+ count]), clinical symptoms (e.g., acute syndrome suggestive of primary HIV infection or undiagnosed immunodeficiency disease), and history of possible HIV exposures (e.g., injecting drug use, sexual contact with a known HIV-positive partner, unprotected sexual contact with multiple partners [heterosexual and/or homosexual], or receipt of blood or blood products before 1985).

If the source is known to have HIV infection, available information about this person's stage of infection (i.e., asymptomatic or AIDS), CD4+ T-cell count, results of viral load testing, and current and previous antiretroviral therapy should be gathered for consideration in choosing an appropriate PEP regimen. If this information is not immediately available, initiation of PEP, if indicated, should not be delayed; changes in the PEP regimen can be made after PEP has been started, as appropriate.

If the HIV serostatus of the source person is unknown, the source person should be informed of the incident and, if consent is obtained, tested for serologic evidence of HIV infection. If consent cannot be obtained (e.g., patient is unconscious), procedures should be followed for testing source persons according to applicable state and local laws. Confidentiality of the source person should be maintained at all times.

HIV antibody testing of an exposure source should be performed as soon as possible. Hospitals, clinics, and other sites that manage exposed HCWs should consult their laboratories regarding the most appropriate test to use to expedite these results. An FDA-approved rapid HIV antibody test kit should be considered for use in this situation, particularly if testing by enzyme immunoassay (EIA) cannot be completed within 24-48 hours. Repeatedly reactive results by EIA or rapid HIV antibody tests are considered highly suggestive of infection, whereas a negative result by Western blot or immunofluorescent antibody is not necessary for making initial decisions about postexposure management but should be done to complete the testing process.

If the source is HIV seronegative and has no clinical evidence of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) or symptoms of HIV infection, no further testing of the source is indicated. It is unclear whether follow-up testing of a source who is HIV negative at the time of exposure, but recently (i.e., within the last 3-6 months) engaged in behaviors that pose a risk for HIV transmission, is useful in postexposure management of HCWs; HCWs who become infected generally seroconvert before repeat testing of a source would normally be performed.

If the exposure source is unknown, information about where and under what circumstances the exposure occurred should be assessed epidemiologically for risk for transmission of HIV. Certain situations, as well as the type of exposure, may suggest an increased or decreased risk; an important consideration is the prevalence of HIV in the population group (i.e., institution or community) from which the contaminated source material is derived. For example, an exposure that occurs in a geographic area where injecting drug use is prevalent or on an AIDS unit in a health-care facility would be considered epidemiologically to have a higher risk for transmission than one that occurs in a nursing home for the elderly where no known HIV-infected resident is present. In addition, exposure to a blood-filled hollow needle or visibly bloody device suggests a higher-risk exposure than exposure to a needle that was most likely used for giving an injection. Decisions regarding appropriate management should be individualized based on the risk assessment.

HIV testing of needles or other sharp instruments associated with an exposure, regardless of whether the source is known or unknown, is not recommended. The reliability and interpretation of findings in such circumstances are unknown.

Clinical Evaluation and Baseline Testing of Exposed HCWs. Exposed HCWs should be evaluated for susceptibility to bloodborne pathogen infections. Baseline testing (i.e., testing to establish serostatus at the time of exposure) for HIV antibody should be performed. If the source person is seronegative for HIV, baseline testing or further follow-up of the HCW normally is not necessary. If the source person has recently engaged in behaviors that are associated with a risk for HIV transmission, baseline and follow-up HIV antibody testing (e.g., 3 and/or 6 months postexposure) of the HCW should be considered. Serologic testing should be made available to all HCWs who are concerned that they may have been exposed to HIV.

For purposes of considering HIV PEP, the evaluation also should include information about medications the HCW may be taking and any current or underlying medical conditions or circumstances (i.e., pregnancy, breast feeding, or renal or hepatic disease) that may influence drug selection. Pregnancy testing should be offered to all nonpregnant women of childbearing age whose pregnancy status is unknown.

MMWR. 1998;47(RR-7):11-17. 2 figures omitted.