Police departments can protect their officers from the risk of contracting AIDS by adopting clear-cut policies, such as hand-washing and the use of protective gloves, the federal government said Sunday.
The National Institute of Justice said that such rules are needed because law enforcement officers frequently come in contact with drug addicts, prostitutes and others who may carry the virus that causes acquired immune deficiency syndrome.
Police departments "should establish easily understood procedures to help police personnel prevent the transmission of the virus while at the same time protecting everybody's constitutional rights," said James K. Stewart, director of the institute, a Justice Department agency.
Stewart made his comments as the institute released a report that noted that many police departments already have established procedures along the guidelines developed at the Centers for Disease Control for preventing transmission of the AIDS virus in the workplace.
Sanitary Work Habits
These include thorough hand-washing after contact with anyone suspected of being infected with the virus, and using protective gloves if there is likelihood of contact with blood or other bodily fluids from someone with the virus.
The report cited studies of 437 members of the families of AIDS patients, none of whom developed antibodies to the disease after long-term contact with the sick person, including the sharing of toilet facilities, food and eating utensils.
"A careful follow-up has not revealed any incidence of or evidence of AIDS transmission in schools, offices, churches or other social settings, nor are there any documented cases of police officers, paramedics or firefighters contracting an HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) infection in the performance of their duties."
Prison Contacts Noted
The report also said that during a three-year period, it found "no correctional staff personnel who had become infected with HIV as a result of a contact with an infected inmate."
It noted, however, that two-thirds of the 35 law enforcement agencies surveyed said they were concerned about officers becoming infected with the AIDS virus through casual contacts.
The report discounted one major concern. It said the risk of becoming infected from a human bite is "extremely remote, because it is almost always the person doing the biting who comes in contact with the blood of the victim, rather than the other way around."