Dear Lucy: I was just in the bathroom at work reading the fine print on a can of germicide spray. It says that it’s for “hard porous surfaces” and that it is effective against HIV among other things. What gives? I thought the HIV virus couldn't live outside bodily fluids. Am I wrong? —Nancy Drew
Dear Girl Detective: According to the results of multiple bathroom-habit surveys—yes, there are such things—you’re not alone in reaching for the nearest reading material while sitting on the throne. Up to three-quarters of those with the time and inclination to answer such polls say they read in the bathroom, though Lucy is hoping most of them find something more scintillating than the fine print on a container of germicide spray!
That said, Lucy is delighted that your visit to the loo yielded such an interesting question to investigate. And Lucy knew just where to turn for the answer: MIT Medical’s associate medical director, Howard Heller, M.D., a specialist in infectious diseases. According to Heller, laboratory experiments have shown HIV remaining viable—e.g. “living”—for hours, even days, after being suspended in 10% serum, dried onto the glass coverslips of microscope slides, and then maintained at exactly the right temperature and humidity levels. “The key phrase being ‘laboratory experiments,’” Heller emphasizes. “In the real world,” he tells Lucy, “HIV does not get transmitted through inanimate objects or surfaces, with the exception of sex toys.”
While most people today know that HIV can’t be transmitted through casual contact with other people or objects, it’s an important point to reiterate, especially when cans of germicide seem to contradict what we think we know. Lucy thanks you for giving her the opportunity to clarify this issue. —Lucy