Two days ago I was in a department store, fiddling around with one of the items on display. There was a cable attached beside the item near the handle(I'm afraid the same thing could have happened to any other person that handled the item, even though it's just one item in a large store). The cable had loose, sharp strands and while handling the item, I noticed a stinging sensation on my hand and pulled it away. I saw a scratch, and on my way to the bathroom, a small spot of blood appeared on my finger. This lead me to believe that the wire indeed pierced my skin, although barely. My concern is that this poses an HIV risk to me. Are there any symptoms that arise within a couple of days of infection?

From what I have read, HIV can survive for a few minutes at most when exposed to the air. Ontario has an HIV infection rate of 233 people per 100,000 population. The population of the town I was in at the time is about 10,000 people. Given that this place is a high-traffic area/town(off of a highway in cottage country), let's say that we can't reliably predict the number of infected individuals in the area. The expected rate of 23 people for a population of 10,000 could very well be greater in actuality because of the temporarily increased presence of people from large metropolitan areas.

Does the incident that happened to me pose a risk to my health? What is required for infection in a case such as this? I'm really worried and ruminating over the situation in my head. There's far too much discrepancy in the information available online, particularly with the amount of time that HIV can survive when exposed to the air. Some sources say 30 seconds while others say 3 hours.
Hello and thank you for contacting the AIDS Vancouver Helpline. Infection rates are not particularly useful in this instance as you were at no risk for HIV transmission based on the information you have provided. It is correct that once HIV is exposed to air its ability to transmit is greatly reduced. I cannot give you a definitive answer about how long a risk of transmission exists when the virus has been exposed to air. Research into many aspects of HIV is ongoing. Furthermore tiny superficial cuts or abrasions on the hands have not been proven to be a portal for the virus to enter a person's bloodstream.

Symptoms are not used to diagnose the presence of HIV since symptoms that may be linked to HIV also occur in various other conditions. The only way to know your HIV status is through a blood test. However in your case it is not really necessary to be tested, unless of course it would reassure you. The testing window is 4 weeks to 3 months but for a conclusive result it is recommended that testing be done at the 3 months post-exposure mark.

If you have other HIV related questions in the future, please contact the Helpline again.

In Health,


Helpline Volunteer

Tel. 604-253-0566 Ext. 299


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