The Hepatitis C Trust and NAT respond to spit hoods debate

The Hepatitis C Trust and NAT (National AIDS Trust) have expressed concern about recent press coverage around the use of ‘spit hoods’ by police forces in the UK that has focused on their supposed value in preventing hepatitis C and HIV transmission.

Both organisations wish to make clear that hepatitis C and HIV cannot be transmitted via spitting. Suggestions to the contrary are not only incorrect, but are hugely damaging as they reinforce existing stigma and misconceptions that surround both viruses.

Such falsehoods also cause unnecessary alarm to police staff. Given the significant challenges faced by police officers in the line of duty, causing them to fear they have been put at risk when they have not places an undue burden upon them, and must not go unchallenged. While the debate around the use of spit hoods is an important one for the police, policy-makers and the public, hepatitis C and HIV are of no relevance to it and should not be used as justification for their use.

Charles Gore, Chief Executive of The Hepatitis C Trust, said: “It is quite clear that hepatitis C cannot be transmitted via spitting, and we cannot accept a situation where this is portrayed as a genuine threat. People living with hepatitis C already face stigma and discrimination as a result of misunderstandings about the virus, and bringing hepatitis C into the debate on spit hoods simply reinforces these misunderstandings.”

Deborah Gold, Chief Executive of NAT said: “HIV is irrelevant to the debate about spit hoods because spitting simply is not an HIV transmission route. Using fear of HIV to justify spit hoods is extremely stigmatising and of great concern to NAT. This stigma and misinformation is especially damaging when a false implication of HIV risk from spitting comes from a source that people trust.”

Dr Stuart Flanagan, Clinical Research Fellow, Viral Hepatitis and HIV Medicine, Queen Mary University London, said: “Hepatitis C and HIV are not transmitted by spitting on someone else.  Although these viruses may be theoretically present and detectable in saliva, the infection and transmission risk is negligible. In the UK the majority of cases of hepatitis C are transmitted by blood to blood contact, and the vast majority of HIV cases are sexually transmitted.”