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2 GUARDS, BITTEN BY INMATE, FACE UNCERTAINTY ON HIV

Though statistics apparently are on their side, the waiting may be the hardest part for two correction officers bitten last weekend by an inmate believed to have AIDS.

The officers will spend the next year waiting to see whether their injuries left them HIV-positive, said Richard Abrahamson, president of Council 82, which represents 21,000 state correction officers, sergeants and lieutenants.

"Until you get the three-, the six-, the 12-month blood test, you're never really satisfied that you don't have it," Abrahamson said.

Two unidentified officers at the Wende Correctional Facility in Alden suffered bites -- with puncture wounds -- to their hands while struggling with an inmate who did not want to return to his cell Saturday night. The officers were treated in Erie County Medical Center and then released.

"We believe . . . strongly the inmate has full-blown AIDS," Abrahamson said. While the inmate's health status is confidential, Abrahamson said, he noted that the inmate has symptoms of AIDS-related illnesses and is taking a drug prescribed for AIDS patients.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta have statistics that may provide some comfort for the officers.

"There's only been two cases of (HIV) transmission through bites," and those blood-to-blood transmissions occurred during "extreme circumstances," said Tammy Nunnally, an HIV-prevention specialist in the Center for HIV, STD & TB Prevention.

Those transmissions occurred when HIV-positive people engaged in encounters that bloodied their mouths, Ms. Nunnally said.

There have been no reported cases of saliva-to-blood transmission, she said.

"It would take . . . literally a bucket of saliva" to attain the concentration of HIV to infect another person, Ms. Nunnally said.

Abrahamson said he has heard similar statistics, but remains skeptical about what is disclosed about AIDS.

"When you work in a correctional setting and you're dealing with (bloodborne diseases), you're really apprehensive about that stuff," he said.

Working in such a setting, officers constantly are washing their hands and items, such as keys, that they handle, Abrahamson said.

"Officers are so protective . . . so cognizant of the fact there are germs all around us and unhealthy people all around us. It's real; it's absolutely real," he said.

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