By ANDREW M POTTS
The Police Association of NSW (PANSW) has issued a rare apology after its president, Tony King, made comments that appeared to imply that HIV could be spread by saliva or by biting.
However, the police association is continuing to maintain that a HIV-positive person could transmit the virus to another person by biting them in some circumstances.
“PANSW is aware that HIV is not transmissible via saliva or minor biting, and in no way intended to create a perception that this was the case,” a spokesperson for the group told the City Hub. “We sincerely regret and apologise for that implication [but] the examples that have been reported on in the media and on which we have commented are not incidents that carry no risk of transmitting a disease.
“The officers we speak to in relation to this issue are not officers that have fears and anxiety based on a lack of understanding. They are officers that have been assaulted by a violent person, exposed to bodily fluid, usually blood, and then been treated by a medical practitioner, who may advise them there is a risk and therefore recommend they undergo a six month testing period and a course of PEP.
“During this time, they suffer considerable anxiety, despite the advice regarding risk provided by their treating medical practitioner.”
King had been speaking about an incident in the town of Casino in early August in which a person who was “wearing women’s lingerie and had [their] penis exposed” and who claimed to “have AIDS” had bitten an officer on the thigh and caused cuts to another officer’s hands while resisting arrest.
“These two officers and their families now face an incredibly anxious wait to have to find out whether they’ve been infected with anything,” King said in a press release that was sent to the media in the days following.
“Police are spat on, bitten and attacked with needles. When that happens, we’re forced to endure torturously long wait times simply because the government hasn’t bothered to fix the red tape that would ease the pain of officers.
“It’s time for the NSW Government to act to on the disgusting practice of exposing police officers to bodily fluids and diseases,” King continued.
King had made the comments as part of an ongoing PANSW campaign for NSW Police to be given the power to force suspects to submit to STI testing, and they resulted in sensationalist coverage of the issue by the Daily Telegraph which repeated the implication that HIV was transmissible through biting in an article titled “Agonising AIDS wait for cops amid NSW blood test farce [sic].”
ACON CEO Nicholas Parkhill acknowledged the on-the-job risks faced by emergency workers.
However, he said it was vital that police receive and provide accurate information about HIV and how it is transmitted.
“ACON understands the high risk situations police and other emergency service workers face in the undertaking of their roles,” Parkhill told City Hub earlier this week. “The apology from the Police Association of New South Wales notes that HIV cannot be transmitted through saliva, however it should recognise that the risk of transmission of the virus through any kind of biting is negligible.
“Advances in the prevention and treatment of HIV mean that police have access to treatments that effectively prevent the transmission of the virus, and these treatments are prescribed by doctors who are trained in identifying potential risk.
“It is vitally important that reporting on issues around HIV and blood borne viruses is undertaken with accuracy and respect. When statements are made that stigmatise people living with HIV and spread misinformation about the virus, enormous damage is done to people in these communities.”