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Hepatitis C, Lousy Journalism, and Misinformed Cops

Here’s the sort of news article that makes me feel like starting my day with a gin and tonic (Don’t worry, I won’t):  Woman with Hep-C virus spits blood on officer, police say…

Hepatitis C and spit

Hepatitis C is transmitted by blood-to-blood, not from spit

Here are some choice morsels from the article:

“A woman positive for Hepatitis C spit blood on a police officer, yelled obscenities and told him she hopes he contracts the virus, police say…

…Rodriguez started to yell obscenities at officers, refused to follow commands and became combative, police say. She then proceeded to split blood on a city officer several times and yelled, “I hope you (expletive) get Hep-C,” court documents say…

..Police confirmed Rodriguez in the past had been tested positive for the Hepatitis C virus. The officer, who had blood on his arms, had to be treated at St. Luke’s Fountain Hill for exposure to Hepatitis C, police state in court records…”

Here is what gets to me about this article:

  • First, spit is icky and it makes me sad to think about the hate and craziness this woman lives with and intended to inflict on police officers.
  • Second: it gives bad information about hepatitis C. This virus is transmitted by blood-to-blood contact. It is really unlikely that anyone was at risk from her spit, even if the officer was bleeding.
  • Third, the officer was treated at St. Luke’s Fountain Hill for exposure to hepatitis C? Perhaps this could have been worded more accurately, something like, “counseled at St. Luke’s Fountain Hill regarding potential exposure to hepatitis C.”
  • Fourth, the journalist could have used the opportunity to educate the public about hepatitis C transmission, prevention, and treatment.
  • Fifth, this deepens the stigma that people with hepatitis C already carry.

It makes me sad when hepatitis C infection is seen or used as a destructive force. I wish everyone with hepatitis C acted responsibly with his or her blood and body secretions. However, with millions of infected people, it is likely that we are going to run into these tragic stories from time to time. I think they are best left unreported. This certainly isn’t worth making the news or becoming a felony charge. It stigmatizes the rest of us.

 

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{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Jon Sherman December 3, 2015, 8:52 AM

    Hi,

    I found your blog entry while doing some research on Police Officers and HCV. You have a great site and I enjoyed reading over your material. However I had some points to hopefully help you with some insight into the LE realm. First, I’m a paramedic for a LE agency(150 medics and 1600 officers). I’ve been an HIV counselor since 2008 and do BBP training for new hires in my department as well as perform OSHA required BBP in service for all the officers annually. We generally do around 70-80 exposure reports a year for our officers and medics who have through work related duties been exposed to blood or OPIM.

    First, I’m a firm believer that the media seldom gets it right. Especially when it comes to accurate reporting of medical issues and facts. I agree that saliva is not a vehicle to transmit HCV (or HIV) but the article clearly states “She then proceeded to spit blood on a city officer several times…” Blood tinged saliva changes the game entirely. There is now a risk for HCV to be transmitted. While the percentage is small it is still a low risk per the CDC.
    http://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/hcv/hcvfaq.htm

    Also, documented occurrences of blood splash into the eye have occurred.
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14647113

    With that in mind per OSHA regs any time someone has an exposure there has to be treatment offered in the form of counseling and Post Exposure Prophylaxis(PEP) (as I’m sure you’re aware.) We know that exposure risks are generally low (Getting HCV from a needle stick is a 1.8% risk and needle stick conveyed HIV is 0.3-0.5 %) Also, as I’m sure you’re aware the prevalence of HIV and HCV in the IDU community is markedly higher than the general population, especially as a comorbid state. To add to this inmates coming out of prison have HCV rates as high as 40% from some Correctional systems. Recidivist offenders are sometimes “frequent flyers” in the criminal justice system.

    So while the stated threat from the spitter was one of HCV there is a HIV risk (until proven otherwise via plasma RNA testing that she was negative for HIV) to consider as well. Current HIV PEP guidelines direct that anti-retroviral meds be administered within 2 hours.

    The term counseling isn’t correct here. Indeed an exposure report involves a counseling component, but the PEP portion involved the administration of meds(tenofovir + emtricitabine and either raltegravir or dolutegravir) is indeed a treatment. And if a proper OSHA compliant exposure report was done the officer whom she spat on most assuredly was treated with those meds. They’d also be offered HBV vaccine if they never had it. But in this case “Treatment” is indeed the right term.

    Also, the felony charge is warranted here. Anyone who is threatened in the manner in which she did the officers is instilling fear of contracting a disease (at a minimum) and in her case, as she knew she had HCV she was indeed trying to make them ill with it. This is not misdemeanor territory. She needs to be charged accordingly (as does someone who is HIV positive and knowingly has sex with (or rapes) someone.)

    I’ll agree with the sentiment of your fourth point. There is an opportunity to educate but I don’t think the media cares in the least to do so.

    Thanks for a great information resource!

    Best regards,

    Jon Sherman

    • Lucinda Porter December 3, 2015, 9:25 AM

      Dear Jon,
      Thank you for taking the time to educate me. Your insights provided angles I had not considered, and in this new light, you changed my thinking.

      The part that hangs me up is that with hep C having nearly a zero transmission risk under these circumstances, how do we find ways to reduce the public’s fear of it. HCV is so stigmatized, and this just amplifies the stigma. Any ideas?

      Appreciatively,
      Lucinda

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