Forty-four Prince George's County firefighters and 12 police officers may be tested for the AIDS virus after possibly being exposed to the disease while rescuing the victims of a bloody car accident last week.
The county health director, Dr. Helen McAllister, said hospital tests indicated that one of two persons fatally injured when their car slammed into a Prince George's County fire truck last Tuesday carried the AIDS virus.
McAllister said hospital officials informed her Friday of the possible exposure to the acquired immune deficiency syndrome virus.
During the weekend, county health officials contacted each firefighter and police officer who was at the crash site.
Those contacted were given two AIDS testing options and were cautioned about hygiene and sexual contact risks, according to McAllister.
Fire department spokesman Tony DeStefano said that only a small number of rescue workers was at "high risk" of exposure to the disease, although he confirmed that one firefighter had cut himself trying to remove one of the crash victims from the battered vehicle.
AIDS is usually transmitted by exchanging bodily fluids with an infected person, but the deadly disease can be transmitted if blood or other fluids from an infected person enters a person's open wound or mucous membrane, according to McAllister.
McAllister said each person contacted was given two options for AIDS testing. The rescue workers could have tests done confidentially at a family health clinic or a hospital, or they could have tests conducted anonymously by the health department, she said.
DeStefano said that many of the firefighters on the scene were wearing protective gloves or clothing, although he confirmed that not every firefighter was following a department protective clothing guideline that strongly encourages rescue workers to take safety precautions.
McAllister said she knows of no case anywhere in the country where a police officer or firefighter has contracted the AIDS virus while working at a crime or accident scene where blood is present.
Health officials estimate the risk of contracting the AIDS virus while providing assistance to an accident victim is less than 1 percent, McAllister said.
DeStefano said he did not know how many of the fire department's rescue workers had decided to have an AIDS test.
"It's part of their personal medical history, and it's up to them to do whatever they think is appropriate," DeStefano said.
DeStefano said he knew of no plan to make mandatory the fire department's protective clothing guideline.