Getting HIV from your surgeon highly unlikely

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - The case of an HIV-infected heart surgeon in Israel reinforces the message that the risk of transmitting HIV — the virus that causes AIDS — from surgeon to patient is very low, according to an article in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, a publication of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

According to the report, HIV testing was performed on 545 former surgery patients who were operated on in the previous decade. All of them tested negative for infection.

These findings are consistent with previous reports indicating a very low risk of surgeon-to-patient HIV transmission, the report states.

This report and others should motivate public health groups to update their guidelines for medical centers in which a worker, found to be infected with HIV, is performing invasive procedures, the authors of the report conclude.

In this case, the surgeon, who had been in practice for two decades and performed roughly 150 operations annually, was diagnosed with HIV infection in January 2007 during a work-up for fever of recent onset, Dr. M. J. Schwaber, from the Israel Ministry of Health, and colleagues report.

When the Ministry of Health was informed of the diagnosis, they instructed hospitals in which the doctor worked to offer HIV testing to all patients operated on by the surgeon since 1997. Of the 1669 patients identified, 545 were available and agreed to take the HIV test.

An expert panel convened by the Ministry of Health recommended that the surgeon be permitted to return to work with no restrictions. Moreover, the surgeon should not be required to disclose the HIV status to prospective patients, provided that adherence to a number of infection control measures is maintained.

SOURCE: Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, January 8, 2009.

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