Saliva, Cricket and Viral Diseases – Hysteria Resurfaces

Misinformation has reared its ugly head again as South Australians waded into the debate over the Du Plessis ball tampering drama.

The South African cricket captain’s controversial habit of polishing the ball with his saliva earned him a fine, and raised a storm of letters to The Advertiser. Among them was one titled “Dirty Saliva”, from Robert McRitchie, which proclaimed dramatically, and wrongly, that “SALIVA is a perfect medium for transmission of infectious viral diseases such as HIV and hepatitis C, just to name two.”

Regrettably, no attempt was made by the paper’s editors to set the facts straight: that, revolting though Du Plessis’ polishing technique might be, it could not be a source of HIV or hepatitis C as none of these diseases are transmitted via saliva.

Stepping  up to the plate
Stepping in where the editors failed to tread, Hepatitis SA, SAMESH, SHineSA, and the Victorian Aids Council (VAC) have written a joint letter to the editor refuting Robert McRitchie’s claims.

…outdated, and based in the fear and hysteria of the days of the Grim Reaper campaign.

“His claim that viral diseases like HIV and hepatitis C are spread though saliva is completely wrong,” the letter said.”Never in the history of the HIV epidemic has there been a case of HIV being spread through spit or saliva. Likewise, there has never been a confirmed case of hepatitis C being spread solely through saliva.

“Claims like those made by Mr McRitchie are outdated, and based in the fear and hysteria of the days of the Grim Reaper campaign. They have no place in current discussions and ignore all scientific evidence.”


The letter also pointed to a resolution unanimously adopted on 18 November by delegates to the national HIV/AIDS Conference in Adelaide, condemning the governments of South Australia, Western Australia and Northern Territory over laws that force people accused of spitting on or biting law enforcement personnel to undergo mandatory HIV and blood-borne virus testing.

CEO of the Australasian Society for HIV, Viral Hepatitis and Sexual Health Medicine (ASHM), Levinia Crooks, reflected the disappointment expressed by the conference delegates, pointing to Australia’s proud record of evidence-based HIV policy response.

“These laws are anti-scientific — the risk of transmission of HIV or other blood-borne viruses from saliva is practically zero. There is no justification for invading the privacy of people in custody by forcing them to undergo blood tests when there is no risk to the officer,” she said.

“We understand the considerable risks faced by police and emergency services when they go about their jobs, but this is not the solution. There has never been a case of HIV transmission from spitting or biting in Australia.”

The conference resolution was supported by SA Greens MLC Tammy Franks who described the laws linking spitting to the spread of blood borne viruses as “loopy”, “not based on science” and only serving to scare.

Note: The Australasian HIV & AIDS Conference is the premier medical/scientific conference in the Australasian HIV and related diseases sector. The 2016 Conference was held in Adelaide from 16–18 November, in conjunction with the Australasian Sexual Health Conference.

Read full HIV/AIDS Conference media release.

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