A man may have become infected with the AIDS virus when he was splattered with blood while assaulting homosexual men during "gay-bashing" outings, a doctor reported.
Although there is no way to be sure how the 49-year-old man became infected, Dr. Paul Carson of the University of Nebraska in Omaha said that was the most likely explanation because the usual ways seemed to have been ruled out."There is no way to prove something like this. But it certainly is a plausible possibility," said Carson, who described the case in a letter published in the British medical journal The Lancet.
The man tested positively for the AIDS-causing human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, when he was being screened for life insurance in October 1990, Carson said.
The man, a father of five, said he was heterosexual and denied having had any homosexual contact, Carson said. The man's wife was not infected, he had not had a blood transfusion, and it was unlikely he had had sex with anyone else who was infected because he had been impotent for 10 years, Carson said.
Although the man admitted he had used intravenous drugs once in 1987, he insisted that he had used a sterile needle and had never done so again, Carson said.
But during questioning the man revealed that during a six-year period in the middle 1980s when he was a truck driver he used to go out with other men in the New York-New Jersey area for "gay-bashing." They would seek out "places frequented by gay men and systematically beat them," Carson wrote.
"He asked me if contact with blood from an infected person could have possibly led to infection," Carson said.
"He said lots of times he would get lots of blood on him and would get small cuts on his hand and asked if he could get infected from that. I said, `Yes, you can,' " Carson said in a telephone interview.
Carson said he decided to report the case in a medical journal because as far as he knew, this possible route of transmission of the AIDS virus had never been reported and he wanted to make medical workers aware of the possibility.
But Carson added that the report might also have the effect of deterring people from assaulting homosexuals. "Perhaps it might make people think that it's not such a good idea to beat people. Things might come back to haunt you," he said.
But David Eng of the Gay Men's Health Crisis, a New York AIDS group, said such reasoning could contribute to the misconception that the AIDS virus is easily transmitted. "It's like saying, `Don't touch them, but you can shoot them,' " he said.
Carisa Cunningham of the AIDS Action Council in Washington was skeptical, saying it would be very unlikely that someone could become infected that way and there were indications of other ways he could have become infected.
Drug users often only admit using drugs once when in fact there have been other occasions, she said, and men who paticipate in gay-bashing often turn out to have had homosexual experiences themselves, she said.
Charles Fallis, a spokesman for the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, said no other such cases had been reported and he, too, was skeptical the virus could be spread that way. Medical workers who are covered with large amounts of AIDS infected blood for long periods usually do not get infected, he said.