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Fact Check-Transmission of HIV by needle injuries is highly unlikely, according to a British AIDS charity

A person’s chance of contracting HIV from a needlestick injury is very low, the chief executive of Britain’s National AIDS Trust has told Reuters. This is in response to claims on social media that young women have tested positive for the virus after being ‘spiked by injection’ on nights out.

Multiple women who reported alleged needle spiking incidents in mid-October say they suffered blackouts and memory loss as a result (here , www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-58983853 and here).

This has prompted police investigations across the United Kingdom, as well as a request from Home Secretary Priti Patel to receive updates.

On social media, however, the narrative has expanded, with users claiming alleged victims have later tested positive for HIV.

“Three girls in Norwich, Nottingham and Manchester were spiked last weekend, but with injected drugs. The needle not only spiked them, but also gave them HIV,” said one meme posted to Facebook on Oct. 20 (here).

“Only 0.15% of the UK population are HIV positive and the fact that three separate girls have contracted HIV in the past week means the injections were probably made to contain HIV by containing contaminated blood as well as the spiking drug.”

A screenshot from Snapchat, also shared to Facebook, claims a “girl from Warwick” was “injected with HIV in the club” (here).

The screenshot message adds: “They left a note in her pocket saying you have HIV and she went and got tested and she was positive.”

Spokespersons for Norfolk (Norwich) and Warwickshire Police told Reuters they were not aware of any such cases of women contracting HIV after being spiked by injection.

Greater Manchester Police and Police Scotland declined to comment on the cases. Nottinghamshire Police is yet to respond.

Meanwhile, Deborah Gold, the chief executive of the National AIDS Trust, told Reuters that while reports of needle spiking were “deeply worrying”, the subsequent rumours on social media were “clearly false and also very harmful”.

She said: “Getting HIV from a needle injury is extremely rare. There have been no confirmed cases of HIV infections from needle stick injuries in the UK since 1999, and whilst it is possible to acquire HIV by sharing unsterilised injecting equipment, in the UK the number of examples of this each year is very low.”

Gold explained that HIV is “a fragile virus” that cannot survive long periods outside the body, adding that the majority of people living with HIV in Britain cannot transmit the illness.

“Most people are on successful HIV treatment, meaning they have undetectable amounts of the virus in the body and they are completely unable to pass on the virus. We hope the facts about HIV can help quell some worries.”

According to Gold, another concern about the claims on social media stems from the suggestion that women had received a positive test result days after being spiked.

“It takes time after a potential exposure to HIV for any infection to be developed enough to be picked up by a test. This is known as a window period.

“In the UK it is recommended that people wait six weeks after possible exposure to test for HIV. This ensures that those testing can be confident that any negative test is accurate.”

She added: “If people do think they have been exposed to HIV in the past 72 hours (usually through unprotected vaginal/anal sex), they should go to an A&E or a sexual health clinic. It is possible to take a medication called PEP, which greatly reduces the risk of acquiring HIV.

“Stories like this are very unhelpful, in driving fear and perpetuating stigma about living with HIV.

“We know from recent public polling that there is a great misunderstanding about HIV and how it can be passed on.

“It is important that information which is shared on social media and the press is accurate and does not perpetuate myths and stigma surrounding HIV.”

VERDICT

False/missing context. Two police departments say claims of women testing positive for HIV after being spiked via injection are false. A British AIDS charity says that while transmission of HIV by needle is technically possible, it is extremely rare.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact-checking work here.

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