A 22-year-old Brazilian woman discovered she was HIV positive during her first blood donation.
The young woman was stunned when her blood tested positive for advanced HIV earlier this year. And the story has since highlighted an extremely rare risk for infection.
The woman had never engaged in sexual intercourse of any kind, nor had she undergone any surgery or blood transfusions; these are among the most common ways people can be infected with the virus.
Puzzled by her lack of risk factors, the woman’s physicians began looking elsewhere for answers, quizzing her about the various activities she had undertaken in the past. The most likely transmission scenario soon became evident: the woman recalled borrowing manicure tools from an older cousin when she was about 12 years old, in particular a pair of cuticle scissors.
Although nobody in the family was aware of an infection at the time, the woman’s cousin was later found to be HIV positive.
The results from further blood and virus tests indicate a high likelihood that the woman was infected through the nail tools. An analysis of her blood suggests she contracted HIV roughly ten years ago, while genetic analysis of the two patients’ virus sequences revealed they were “highly related”.
Doctors say this case, which has since been documented in a medical journal, suggests shared nail equipment is an possible mechanism for HIV transmission.
However, they stress it is an extremely rare incidence.
“This transmission of HIV by shared manicure equipment is a very rare event that should serve not to make people fear HIV or contact with HIV-infected people,” Dr Brian Foley from the HIV Sequence Database at the Los Alamos National Laboratory said in a statement, adding that HIV is not spread through “casual contact” like sharing drinking glasses or eating utensils.
If anything, the story should remind people of the need to be careful in any situations where blood contact could occur, as there are numerous viruses that can be transmitted this way, not just HIV.
“[S]haring any utensils with possible blood-blood contact, such as needles used for drugs, tattoos, or acupuncture can result in transmission of viruses such as hepatitis C (HCV) and HIV. In addition, there are other common viruses and bacteria that can also be spread by sharing equipment without proper disinfection between users.”
So in conclusion, you don’t need to throw out your nail kit. The main takeaway here is that if you’re concerned, sterilising manicure tools before you use them – or before someone uses them on you – is a good idea in general.