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JAMA. 1992 Feb 26;267(8):1100-5.

Health care workers infected with the human immunodeficiency virus. The next steps.

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  • 1Program in Medical Ethics, University of California, San Francisco.


The tragedy of five patients who contracted human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection from a seropositive dentist has alarmed the public. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recently revised its recommendations for preventing the transmission of HIV infection to patients during invasive procedures. The CDC abandoned a previous plan to list exposure-prone invasive procedures that HIV-infected health care workers should not perform. The CDC said "expert review panels" should decide on a case-by-case basis whether seropositive health care workers may perform invasive procedures. As of February 1992, the revised recommendations were under review by the US Department of Health and Human Services. Many issues remain to be clarified, such as how these panels will operate and whether decisions will be consistent in similar cases. Disregarding the CDC guidelines or infection-control precautions may further erode public trust and lead to draconian restrictions on HIV-infected health care workers. Physicians and dentists should respond more effectively to public fears about HIV transmission. The challenge is to protect patients while respecting the privacy and livelihood of health care workers.

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