AIDS Scare Prompts Plan to Equip Rescuers to Avoid Contact

Times Staff Writer

Paramedic coordinators for the Los Angeles County Fire Department have recommended a policy to ensure that personnel responding to rescue calls carry respiration equipment to avoid mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, officials said Friday.

A department spokesman said Fire Chief John Englund is expected to approve the policy, which is an outgrowth of a rescue attempt last weekend in which a paramedic gave mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to a man later found to have AIDS.

Manual Resuscitator

As part of the proposed policy, all Fire Department vehicles would be required to carry an "Ambu bag," a manual resuscitator in which a bag forces air into a victim's lungs through a tube connected to a mask, department spokesman Pat Bradshaw said.

All personnel involved in rescuing and treating accident victims also would carry a disposable "mouth-to-mask" resuscitator, which is small enough to fit in a pocket, Bradshaw said. With that device, a rescuer blows into a tube connected to a mask on the victim's face.

Bradshaw said the policy would minimize physical contact that might spread communicable diseases to firefighters. But firefighters would continue to use regular mouth-to-mouth resuscitation if no other means of respirating a victim were at hand, he said.

Firefighters said last weekend's rescue attempt in Topanga Canyon illustrated the need for lightweight, portable equipment in emergencies in which victims are in hard-to-reach places.

On Sunday, four paramedics had to rappel down a cliff along Topanga Canyon Boulevard and could not carry a mechanical respirator. When they reached the driver, he was barely breathing and one of the men immediately began mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

The attempt to revive the victim failed and the rescue team discovered soon after that the man suffered from AIDS, or acquired immune deficiency syndrome, and hepatitis B, another contagious disease.

Medical experts said the firefighters face little or no risk of contracting AIDS, which they say is spread only through a significant exchange of body fluids, usually during sexual relations or blood transfusions. The disease, which is often fatal, destroys the body's immune system.

Approval Likely Soon

Englund should receive the staff recommendation in the middle of next week and will probably approve it shortly after that, Bradshaw said.

"It's not a new problem," Bradshaw said. "Every time you give mouth-to-mouth resuscitation you worry about catching something, even colds or the flu."

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