I get asked this question on nearly all, if not every first aid course that I ever run. Of all the scary things we talk about during the course of the day this is the one that still strikes fear into the hearts of the participants.
You can see the look on their faces change when we start talking about giving mouth to mouth resuscitation, some look disgusted, some look unsure but no one ever looks happy.
Since the discovery of the HIV virus and the stigma that has attached itself to the transmission of this disease it has been on everyone's radar of things to watch out for.
As we all know science and medicine have come on a long, long way since the discover of the virus in the 1980's. Back then no one really knew anything about it, other than it was deadly. They weren't sure how easily it was transmitted. Whether just breathing the same air was enough for you to become infected with the virus.
Thankfully now we know an awful lot more than we did nearly 40 years ago.
We now know that most people diagnosed with HIV in the UK acquire the virus through unprotected vaginal or anal sex.
We know that other body fluids, like saliva, sweat or urine, don't contain enough of the virus to infect another person.
We know that although there is still no cure for HIV there is medicine effective to stop you becoming infected if you think you have been infected through a high risk activity. Giving mouth to mouth resuscitation is not considered a high risk activity, even if there was blood around the casualties mouth. Although body fluids like blood can pass through broken skin, wounds, or mucous membranes it's very rare for this to lead to infection.
We know that these medications are so effective the lifespan of someone living with HIV is near enough normal and their quality of life is as good as a person living without HIV.
HIV has NEVER been transmitted through mouth to mouth resuscitation before. EVER.
Does that mean that you're expected to give rescue breaths every time?
No, giving rescue breaths is still a choice, the aim of this blog isn't to make everyone give breaths every time but it is to educate people about the level of risk involved.
Why are rescue breaths so important anyway? I thought we didn't have to do them?
Rescue breaths help to ensure there is enough oxygen in the blood stream to keep the brain and the rest of the vital organs alive as best as possible until the professionals arrive to take over. The brain tissues start to die after as little as 3 minutes without oxygen. The longer the lack of oxygen continues the more of the brain becomes damaged. This can decrease the chance of survival or make it more likely the casualty will be alive but with brain damage that can cause physical and or mental deficits for the surviving casualty.
Are there other risks?
There are other diseases that can pass on through giving mouth to mouth resuscitation such as Tuberculosis, Hepatitis and Herpes. However this risks of these illnesses passing on are very low. And these very low risks can be further lowered with the use of a face shield during mouth to mouth.
You can find these in and around first aid kits. You can also purchase little Keyring versions of these for when you're on the move.
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