Risk of HIV transmission from patients to surgeons in the era of post-exposure prophylaxis

J Hosp Infect. 2000 Feb;44(2):99-105. doi: 10.1053/jhin.1999.0672.


The HIV prevalence, among patients either undergoing, or with the potential to undergo, surgery were estimated using data from unlinked anonymous HIV surveys of patients in Glasgow hospitals during 1992-1997 in order to quantify the risk of surgeons acquiring HIV occupationally in the era of post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) availability. A range of prevalence rates was applied to data on other factors influencing risk; these comprised, i) the probability of a percutaneous injury from a sharp instrument used on an HIV infected patient resulting in HIV transmission, ii) the number of injuries sustained and iii) whether or not PEP was administered. On the basis of, for example, a surgeon sustaining three percutaneous injuries over 12 months and not taking PEP after each, the annual risks ranged from 1 in 2,000,000 for urological/renal surgeons to 1 in 200,000 for those performing general surgery/ENT/gynaecological procedures. The administration of PEP after each injury would reduce these rates to 1 in 10,000,000 and 1 in 1,000,000 respectively. The risk of surgeons acquiring HIV occupationally in a city which has an HIV prevalence typical of most urban areas in the UK, is 'minimal' or 'negligible'. In the context of such low risk and our limited knowledge of the adverse effects of PEP, the risk assessment to decide whether or not to give PEP should be well informed and consistent. Current guidelines to help physicians and affected healthcare workers in their decision making need to be improved.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Anti-HIV Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Female
  • General Surgery / statistics & numerical data*
  • HIV Infections / epidemiology
  • HIV Infections / prevention & control*
  • HIV Infections / transmission
  • Humans
  • Infectious Disease Transmission, Patient-to-Professional / prevention & control*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Needlestick Injuries / drug therapy
  • Needlestick Injuries / epidemiology
  • Needlestick Injuries / virology*
  • Prevalence
  • Probability
  • Scotland / epidemiology
  • Zidovudine / therapeutic use


  • Anti-HIV Agents
  • Zidovudine