An inmate who says he was bitten in the Arlington County jail by a cellmate who carries the AIDS virus has filed a motion in circuit court to force the Sheriff's Department to give him an AIDS test.

The request this week by Jerome Baker, who has been in the Arlington jail since January, comes in the midst of an extensive Sheriff's Department review of its AIDS policy.

The policy says that only inmates who show symptoms of the disease are tested.

That position is adopted by many prison officials elsewhere.

The AIDS virus is rarely found in saliva, according to authorities at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in Bethesda.

Baker and another inmate, William Clark, said yesterday that the man who bit him had bleeding sores in his mouth at the time. The virus is most often transmitted through blood and semen.

Arlington jail authorities said they were unaware of that part of Baker's claim.

Arlington jail officials said yesterday that inmate requests for AIDS testing are common. "I can't tell you the absolute panic and hysteria that comes up every time when an AIDS question comes up," said Justina Wells, chief nurse at the jail's medical clinic.

A few weeks ago, Wells said, at least half the women inmates requested the testing.

Baker said many inmates have given up playing basketball for fear of being scratched.

Through verbal and written requests, Baker first sought the test in April, after an inmate bit him in a brawl and he later learned the man had been exposed to the AIDS virus, a fact confirmed by jail officials.

His first request, filed as a grievance on April 26, was not given to medical personnel because, said Sheriff James A. Gondles, "it was up to him to notify the medical section."

Baker received a reply from the Sheriff's Department, which oversees the jail.

The letter said acquired immune deficiency syndrome cannot be spread by biting and offered to give him the test if he was willing to pay for it. The tests cost about $30, according to Wells.

His subsequent verbal and written requests for testing were denied by the medical staff, in part because they were not aware until late May that Baker's request stemmed from a bite and that the bite broke the skin.

Wells said yesterday that she intends to contact the corporation that runs the clinic, Prison Health Services Inc., in Wilmington, Del., for guidance on whether to test Baker.

"I came in here for a charge {of robbery} and they gave me the death sentence," said Baker, who has small scars from the bite on the right side of his back.

"I feel {the confusion over testing} happened because {jail authorities} don't know how to handle it," Baker said. "But I don't want to die if they don't know how to handle it."

Wells and Robert Gaudet, the facility's physician, debated yesterday whether they should administer the test even though it goes against jail policy.

"Put yourself in his position," Gaudet said. "If you thought you had it, you would want to know . . . . There's no medical reason to {give the test} because there's nothing we can do if he tests positive."

"It's the same damn thing every time," Wells said. "Do we stick to our policy or do we give in? . . . If he's negative now, that doesn't mean it will be negative 10 years down the line. If we do it for Jerome Baker, there are 200 inmates waiting in line."

Gondles, currently reviewing the department's AIDS policy with county health specialists, is opposed to uniform testing, as has been suggested by President Reagan and was suggested this week by the American Medical Association.

"It is not in the interest of the jail or the community that regular, mandatory testing be done for all inmates," Gondles said. "Once you've tested them, what are you going to do with the ones that test positive, and what's it going to do to them?"

A federal study released this year found there were about 1,200 AIDS cases in state, federal and county jails, and that more than 90 percent of those inmates had used intravenous drugs.

Gondles also said he was reviewing the department policy that does not require isolation of inmates who test positive for the AIDS virus.

He said he had resisted isolating AIDS victims in part because of the psychological devastation such treatment can bring. Yesterday, however, he said he is "leaning strongly" toward such isolation to protect the population, in part because of the public's fear of the disease spreading.

"It's not a fun decision," he said.

In an effort to dispel rumors and misinformation about AIDS, jail officials were given a special course in the subject last month by the Whitman-Walker Clinic, a District-based organization that provides services to people who test positive for AIDS.