Mary Magee is Jane Doe.

While you all are having a good time making fun of PZ Myers for bravely outing a dead Russian (damn zombie trolls!), I figured it would be a good time to talk about Anons in HIV World.

Okay, so, I do HIV-1 research. The first thing everyone says when I mention this is “Oh my god! Arent you afraid you are going to infect yourself??” and my answer is a 100% “Not really.”

First of all, HIV-1 is not *that* scary– its not airborne, spill a little you just squirt some EtOH or lysol on it and its dead. The only way I could infect myself would be if I like, STABBED my hand through two pairs of gloves with a tip full of high titer virus, and even then, I have antiretrovirals two steps away. Start taking them ASAP, and the virus might not even take hold (at least I have a shot at not getting infected).

It is so hard to infect yourself doing HIV-1 research that is just doesnt happen.


Us modern HIV-1 researchers know the stories of pioneers in the HIV-1 field, who did get infected: researchers who handled centrifuge tubes of virus that shattered in their hands, and nurses who got stuck with needles.

But they are just scary stories to us. They arent a reality, and the people who did get infected dont have faces, to us.

One of them does, now. Mary Magee is Jane Doe:

Nurse who contracted HIV with jab sheds anonymity

Twenty-four years ago she was a young nurse, just two months into a job on San Francisco General Hospital’s HIV/AIDS ward, when she accidentally stuck herself with a needle while changing a patient’s intravenous line.

She tested positive for HIV six weeks later – the first such documented case in a health care worker at the hospital and only the 13th in the country.

But she didn’t want the infection to define her, and she also worried about more practical things, such as the possibility of losing jobs or health insurance if her status were known. She had to fight the city for almost two years to get paid workers’ compensation and be allowed to retain her anonymity.

At the same time, Magee was furious at the lack of safety precautions that had enabled her needle-stick accident and that led to thousands of similar accidents in hospitals nationwide.

Magee and her colleagues eventually learned that there were hypodermic needles available that were safer than the ones used in hospitals. The Chronicle published a series of stories in 1998 about why those safer needles weren’t being used, and meanwhile, Magee and her peers lobbied state and national politicians for better protection.

California implemented a needle safety law in 1998, and Congress approved federal standards three years later.

Turning a traumatic life event into change that has protected thousands of nurses and health care workers.

Thank you, Mary Magee.


  1. #1 Bill Door
    December 12, 2011

    Note to HIV denialists: this story also shows that HIV fulfills one of Koch’s postulates.

  2. #2 Epinephrine
    December 13, 2011

    @Bill Door: No, it doesn’t. Koch’s postulates refer to infection when a pure culture is used. However, there are examples of infection from pure culture due to laboratory accidents.

  3. #3 Bill Door
    December 13, 2011

    Aww. Perhaps I was misled by this paper.

  4. #4 Jack
    December 14, 2011

    Have things improved do you think for healthcare workers in the last 20-odd years? I don’t know. Patients admitted to hospital over in the UK are not routinely screened for HIV and whilst the staff are busy changing drips etc. one would like to think they are more aware of the risks but more could be done I am sure.

    Are healthcare workers themselves now routinely screened? Don’t know. They are probably – perhaps – offered free screening but if it is anything like the free flu vaccine offered to healthcare workers then take-up will be appallingly low.

    What’s it like in the labs Abbie? Do you guys get offered routine checks? Do you take them up?

    If people don’t realise the risks, don’t take the offered screening (if there is any), then presumably they could be infected without knowing for some considerable time. Does the insurance covering healthcare workers now make allowances (carry indemnity) against infection/transmission? Does the same apply to lab-workers? Can you chaps even get insurance? I bet the premiums are prohibitive!

    I know you have another thread running now about HIV too, but both of them made me think about immigration policy. I mean if immigrants/migrants from the most infected countries are allowed (or enter illegally) into our countries – at what point are they screened? At what point are they permitted – potentially expensive – treatment?

  5. #5 Jack
    December 14, 2011


    Way to go Mary! It shouldn’t take a single person to change the system for the better but it so very often does.

  6. #6 lucy
    December 20, 2011

    Where i’ve worked (Europe) we’ve always had on-demand access to screening and HAART should anything happen, and our employers carry the responsibility for any injury incurred the workplace, just like in any other industry.

    As for heath care workers:

    And immigration to the US? yes, it involves an HIV test. What this means for insurance i’m yet to find out.

  7. #7 Solius
    December 28, 2011

    Ethnic joogoldhoarding faggots approve!

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