NORTH CHICAGO, Ill. (STMW) — Police will neither confirm nor deny information that several officers are undergoing treatment for possible exposure to the HIV virus after reportedly being bitten during an arrest last week.

Deputy Police Chief Richard Wilson declined to discuss specifics, but said “more than one officer” was injured in an Oct. 10 incident. The department also refused to immediately release a police report on the matter.

But Lake County Health Department epidemiologist Victor Plotkin, eager to dispel the misinformation and stigma that still surround HIV/AIDS, said the likelihood that the virus was transmitted through biting is “very remote.”

“We know that it’s not normally transmitted through saliva,” Plotkin said in a phone interview on Thursday, Oct. 17. “And a bite would have to include very significant tissue damage with blood present in both the victim and the biter.”

“Once HIV comes into contact with air, the virus is dead,” said Sara Zamor, coordinator of the department’s STI or Sexually Transmitted Infections Program.

HIV is usually transmitted via sexual contact, said Zamor, who noted that bacterial infections like strep or staph are more likely to be transmitted through a bite.

Plotkin said tests to determine HIV infection can take between 10 and 30 days.

“Testing technology is very sophisticated,” he said. “But it takes time for antibodies to develop and show up on the test.”

Treatment for suspected exposure to HIV includes a prophylaxis or preventive 30-day regimen of medication that must be started within 72 hours of contact. Plotkin said the prophylaxis reduces the chances of infection to “very, very low.”

“HIV is a very sensitive issue, but people need to know the facts,” Zamor said. “It’s taken a lot of time and effort to dispel myths surrounding the virus. We don’t want to help dramatize or sensationalize it.”

An estimated 1,000 people in Lake County are living with HIV, according to Zamor. About 250 of those, or one in four, don’t know they’re infected.

(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire © Chicago Sun-Times 2013. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

Watch & Listen LIVE