A pregnant woman, fatally shot by a hunting arrow in a bizarre street accident in Baltimore on Monday, had AIDS, triggering concern among emergency workers who assisted her that they may have been exposed to the deadly virus.
The labor union representing the five firefighters and one paramedic involved in the incident protested yesterday that at least one hospital worker where they took the stricken woman recognized her as a patient and AIDS carrier but did not warn the firefighters.
"They failed to tell our people they were exposed to a woman with AIDS," said Jeff DeLisle, president of Baltimore Firefighters Local 734. "There was an absolute breakdown in networking. It's created a lot of anxiety." One 17-year veteran firefighter who rushed to help the stricken woman without using protective surgical gloves is "extremely upset" and is considering quitting, DeLisle said.
Officials at Johns Hopkins Hospital, where the woman died after being rushed to the emergency room late Monday, said Maryland confidentiality laws prohibit disclosure of AIDS virus information on patients.
The officials also cited findings of the federal Centers for Disease Control that the chances of firefighters and paramedics becoming infected by AIDS-tainted blood during medical emergencies are extremely low, even when extensive bleeding by accident victims is involved.
DeLisle said he was not certain how many of the six emergency workers were wearing gloves or if any of them had bruises or cuts on their skin through which blood might have penetrated. The CDC has said that acquired immune deficiency syndrome generally can be trasmitted only through intimate contact, and there is no evidence that it can pass directly through unbroken skin.
But DeLisle said firefighters are concerned about recent reports that several health care workers have been infected with AIDS apparently through accidental contact with patients' blood samples.
The slain woman, Jewel F. Lyles, a 25-year-old Baltimorean in her ninth month of pregnancy, was apparently a bystander on the street during an argument between two men, according to police. One of the men produced a hunting bow and shot an arrow toward the other man, police said, but the arrow struck the woman in the abdomen just above the uterus.
Six emergency workers and one paramedic responded to the scene where they found the woman "bleeding profusely," DeLisle said. At least three of the workers had their "hands and forearms covered with blood" as they attempted to stabilize her, he said.
They then rushed her to Johns Hopkins where both she and her child -- delivered by emergency cesarean section -- died.
DeLisle said that several hours later, the firefighters learned that the woman had AIDS when a police officer relayed the information to them from a conversation he had had with a hospital employe who recognized the woman. Fire officials said they have since confirmed that the woman was both a patient receiving obstetrical care and a former employe who worked as a housekeeper at Hopkins. They said they learned independently from the Maryland medical examiner's office that the woman had AIDS.
DeLisle praised the six emergency workers, saying several of them rushed to the woman's aid without delaying long enough to put on protective gloves.
"They saw a pregnant woman with an arrow half way through here," he said. "AIDS was the farthest thing from their minds."