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2005-07-06-Comb ban MP attacked on HIV fear
A Liberal Democrat MP has come under fire for saying the HIV virus could be spread through shared use of objects such as combs and even "toilet seats".
Nick Harvey said combs had been removed from Commons' cloakrooms amid concern about head lice and general hygiene.
But a health officials' report also showed an "infinitesimal risk" of HIV being passed on, he added.
The National Aids Trust said there was no risk of this at all and it was "ridiculous" to say there was.
Yusef Azad, policy director of the National Aids Trust, said there been about 70 million infections since the Aids epidemic began and until someone came forward with evidence they had caught the disease by sharing a comb "I am happy to say there is no risk".
Once the Aids virus had been exposed to the open air "it lives a very short time," he added. "There is no risk of being infected by the use of a comb or a hairbrush and even having to say that is a very sad statement on the extent and degree of knowledge about HIV in this country 20 years after the start of the epidemic."
Mr Harvey, of the House of Commons commission, said MPs had wanted to rid the commons washrooms of "skanky" and unhygienic combs, which some members used to smarten up their appearance before entering the chamber.
"The hair brushes were not removed to stop people getting Aids," Mr Harvey said.
But he said risk assessment test carried out by occupational health officials identified the possible risk of infection being spread "however infinitesimal".
The report, by the Occupational Health, Safety and Welfare Service, a service provided to both houses of parliament, states there was a "potential exposure to bodily fluid, ie blood, if somebody's scalp is cut whilst using comb or hairbrush. Hepatitis or HIV risk. Could spread head lice".
It says the risk is "extremely low" but that steps should be taken to eliminate the risk - with one option being to replace the combs and brushes with dispensers of disposable sterile combs.
Mr Harvey said there was a "miniscule chance that blood-borne diseases" could be passed on by combs.
But he denied that this was the sort of misinformation that led people in the 1980s to believe Aids could be caught from toilet seats.
"As far as I am aware, Aids can be passed through a toilet seat," Mr Harvey told the BBC news website.
"If there was infected blood on the seat and someone sat on it, who had an open wound."
He said the officials who carried out the risk assessment on the combs would have failed in their duty if they had not pointed out the possibility of HIV infection, regardless of the signal it sent out or how remote it was.
"I don't think people writing the report were attempting to send out signals of any kind."
Genevieve Clark, director of communications at the Terrence Higgins Trust, said: "It is great to see MPs taking an interest in the Aids issue, but not in a way that is actually useful."
She added: "I am sure they didn't expect the proceedings of the committee would attract quite so much interest.
"But anything that fuels misconceptions about Aids is going to set us back in terms of education.
"The public don't have to worry about toilet seats or combs. They have to worry about safer sex. The vast majority of HIV infections in the UK are through people not having safe sex."
A department of health spokeswoman said: "The risk of contracting HIV by sharing combs is very remote and would not be specifically covered in Department of Health guidance.
"The only way that HIV is passed from one person to another is if the blood, semen, vaginal fluids or breast milk of an infected person enter the body of an unprotected person by having unprotected sex (without a condom) with a person who has HIV; by using a needle or syringe which has already been used by someone who is infected with HIV; and a women with HIV passing the virus to her baby before or during birth, or by breastfeeding."