Briefing: Health: Road-rage victim infected with HIV

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The Independent Online
Scientists have identified a new and violent way of transmitting HIV - by headbutting.

Doctors describe a victim of road-rage who was infected with both the Aids virus and hepatitis B after being assaulted by another driver following a road accident. The victim was wearing metal-framed spectacles perched up on his forehead when the fight began. His assailant butted him with such force that imprints of the spectacles were left in both men's foreheads and there was copious bleeding.

The assailant was an injecting drug-user who had tested positive for HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C in 1991. The victim tested negative for HIV three days after the fight but 14 days later he developed symptoms suggesting HIV infection which was confirmed by tests three months later. At that time, he developed acute hepatitis B.

Blood-tests following the incident, which happened in Milan, and is reported in The Lancet, strongly suggested that the similarity between the HIV DNA in the men had not happened by chance and that the headbutter had indeed infected the victim with the two viruses. Hepatitis C did not develop, probably because high levels of virus are needed in the blood for infection to take place and the assailant had very low concentrations, the Italian doctors say.

- Jeremy Laurance, Health Editor