Question: On Contact Lenses and HIV Exposure

I have a very good relationship with my optometrists – so much so that I still have not found a Cape Town-based optometrist. At my recent vision test (my vision is significantly worse, again) I mentioned cutting back on my contact lens use and relying more on my glasses.

When asked why, I told the optometrist that it was to minimise HIV-transmission risks. He still looked confused, so I explained more in detail. In hospital, getting bodily fluids to the eyes is a very real risk. Transmission rates of HIV are much lower with splash injuries than with needle stick injuries, but it is still not a risk anybody wants to take.

We have been told that contact lens wearers have a greater risk of transmission in a splash-incident than non-contact lens wearers, given that the  contact lens wearer’s cornea may have small irritations, inflammatory reactions and stromal or epithelial thinning.

I kind of just accepted it as truth, but my optometrist had never heard of this theory before. A literature search did not reveal any studies on the matter either. The most I got was that individuals wearing contact lenses at the time of the splash incident should keep the lens in the eye while rinsing it, as it acts as an additional barrier.

Now I am wondering: is this just an urban legend passed from one student to the other? The optometrist said that he would ask around. Does anyone here have any idea?


  1. Wow that is very alarming!!! Thanks for the 411

  2. KokkieH says:

    I would think the issue is rather that if you’re wearing glasses there’s a smaller risk of fluids actually touching your eye as they cover the whole eye. Lenses only cover the cornea, but not the rest of the exposed eyeball, so the exposure risk is greater. But someone wearing neither obviously have the greatest risk, as there’s no physical barrier protecting the eye.

    I always knew poor eyesight had a use 😉

  3. crankygiraffe says:

    Interesting! I’ve never heard of that. In fact, I just started wearing contacts because I was getting tired of my glasses getting dirty, having to wear shields over top of glasses, and I hated how they always fogged up in the OR. I sure hope that it is just an urban legend!!!

    1. I have the same issue with glasses – I also have a strong astigmatism so if my glasses get bumped a little and I’m scrubbed in it’s a rather big problem! Contacts are way nice, except when you have a long shift and they get a little tired… I’ll let you know if I hear anything of substance!

  4. TrishaDM says:

    I have heard something similar, not just with things like HIV transmission, but also chemicals and things. I am not sure how much of it was lens irritation increasing risk versus the fact that glasses act as a shield and also that the lenses may keep the splattered material nearer the eye than if you have contacts in place. I have no clue how much is myth and how much is based on theories or cases.
    I have never worn contacts, so I never really looked into it.

    1. Okay – maybe if I search for chemicals instead of blood products I’ll get more info. Thanks!

  5. Renate says:

    I seriously had a fangirl moment when I saw you had commented on my blog. (Insert sheepish smile here…)

    I have to say, I haven’t heard of contact lenses increasing risk of transmission. I would agree with the above posters that glasses decrease the risk of splatter into the eyes, but I think that’s about as far as it goes…?

    Good luck with Nano!

    1. That’s so sweet! Have I really not commented on on your blog before??
      Thanks for popping by – NaNo seems to be going okaaaay… Good luck to you too!

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