On May 29, 2017, a photo post on Facebook appeared with the following caption:
Please look before gassing up there putting infected HIV needles In the gas stations plz warn every friend of yours and family members. Guys plz share share share
It was posted by the user Jesse Barbosa Costa with a photograph of a gas pump handle with a hypodermic needle affixed to the handle in such a way that whoever picked it up would receive an allegedly HIV-positive needle-stick injury. The hypodermic needle is circled several times in red.(1)
I found the post to be suspect given that it follows the format of many health-related internet hoaxes: shock photo and/or text, emotional appeal taking advantage of public fears, few (if any) relevant sources cited. I discussed a similar sort of thing in my post No Justice No EMS. In that case, the public fear was that protestors in the streets were preventing the transport of patients to the hospital; in this case, the public fear is that innocent people will be infected with HIV. (Note also how the fear in both cases is influenced by public attitudes towards minority groups viewed as threatening (protestors) and/or immoral (HIV-positive).)
When I did a quick Google search, I discovered that my gut instinct was correct: the gas pump needle-stick story is false. There was an email hoax that went around in 2000 that made the same claim as the May 29 post and was proven false. This hoax relied on passing on via email forwarding a message supposedly from the fictitious Abraham Sands of the nonexistent Jacksonville Police Department (Jacksonville’s law enforcement agency is the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office)(2-3).
Towards the end of last month, which is to say May 2017, there was a—”a” as in singular—report of a man in California who suffered a needle-stick injury via the same mechanism of injury as the email hoax from 2000. The case is currently under investigation, and the man has reportedly tested negative for HIV at this time. However, there is no evidence to support claims of a widespread outbreak of HIV-positive needle-stick injuries from gas pump handles.