Can you get HIV from sharing a nasal spray?
I recently answered a question on Quora which I found interesting so am sharing it here.
Can you get HIV from sharing a nasal spray with a co-worker, even if you covered it with toilet paper before using it?
I was suffering from a sinus headache, and a guy I worked with offered me to use nasal spray. I wasn’t sure, so I wiped it down and even covered it with toilet paper before sticking it in my nose. I then sprayed it. I do have some HIV-related anxiety, and I since wonder if I put myself at risk for HIV since I don’t know his status. Could it either a) live in the bottle so the spray could infect or b) if he had used it in his nostril and the virus was active when I used it in my nostril?
Thank you so much for your care and thoughtful answer.
The quick answer is – No you cannot get infected with HIV this way.
Your next question is – why?
First let look at real world evidence – there is none. No surprise there. You really do not expect any medical center to run multi-center placebo controlled randomised double-blinded studies on whether sharing nasal sprays can spread HIV. As far as I know there are also no case reports, case series or any other scientific literature on the spread of HIV via nasal sprays.
Second let’s look at proxy evidence. Is there anything similar to sharing a nasal spray that has been shown to spread HIV? Sharing nasal hair trimmers for example. Again not that I am aware of.
Last, let’s look at scientific theory which, by the way, to me is the least reliable way to predict HIV risk. Scientific theory says there is no HIV virus in snot. So he might have had a nose bleed you say. OK so there is HIV virus on the nasal spray from the blood. Scientific theory also states HIV has found to retain it’s enzymatic activity and be able to replicate in cell culture up to 7 days outside the body in certain climatic conditions! Note how I did NOT say HIV has been found to be infective after 7 days outside the body. Science also says HIV can infect a person via the mucous membranes which is exactly what lines the inside of the nose! OMG! Live HIV virus from blood on the nasal spray shot up into the nose lined with mucosal membranes!
OK time to calm down. You see how misleading scientific theory can be? Let’s use some common sense instead. We have known about the existence of HIV for 30 years. In that time, it has become easily the most studied and recorded virus in the history of mankind. We know for a fact it is spread via penetrative sex, sharing needles for injection drug use, blood transfusion, organ transplants AND NO OTHER WAY. If HIV can be spread so easily by an action as benign as sharing a nasal spray do you not think there will be a whole lot more than just 35 million people in the whole world living with HIV right now?
But why oh why is there no risk you ask. Isn’t the science reliable? Sure it is. But there is also a lot of other science just as reliable like how HIV is rendered non-infectious soon after contact with air. Like how the viral load on the nasal spray is too low to cause an infection. Like the mucous membrane contains antibodies and chemicals and cells that actively seek out and kill HIV and other viruses.
There is an extremely complex dance between the HIV virus and our immune system. A lot of this process we do not yet fully understand. But we know one thing – you cannot get HIV from casual contact and you certainly cannot, in my humble opinion, get it from sharing a nasal spray.
Want to know how HIV actually enters your body? Please read:
PS – Don’t share nasal sprays. You can catch nasty stuff like MRSA.