HIV & haemodialysis

What is HIV?

HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is the virus that causes AIDS by attacking and weakening the body’s immune system. This means that the body is unable to defend itself against diseases that cause no problems in people who are healthy. These diseases can develop into life threatening illnesses for people whose immune systems are weakened.

How is HIV spread

It is clear now that HIV is transmitted from one person to another through contact with infected blood and infected bodily fluids such as semen and vaginal fluids. The normal routes of transmission are through sexual intercourse with an infected person (both anal and vaginal) and the sharing of needles by intravenous drug abusers. Health education campaigns aimed at preventing HIV transmission have focused on safer sex and drug taking.

Is there a risk of HIV being passed through haemodialysis?

Because HIV is passed from one person to another through contact with an infected person’s blood, there is a very, very small chance that somebody could catch HIV through haemodialysis.

For this reason, dialysis units take special precautions to ensure that the chances of one person catching the virus from another are very small:

  • staff practice universal precautions, using gloves, gowns and even masks to ensure that the risk of spreading any blood borne disease is minimised.
  • machines are carefully cleansed and disinfected between users,
  • patients who are known to have HIV or any other blood borne virus and those whose status is not known receive their dialysis in a separate area.
  • following Renal Association guidelines a testing programme for these viruses is in operation. All dialysis patients are checked annually for HIV infection

As noted above, the chances of catching HIV through dialysis is very, very, small indeed.

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