Injured Australian rugby players will this year have their bloodied uniforms sprayed with bleach as a precaution to kill the virus which causes AIDS, a move which may have implications for contact sports worldwide.
A landmark study commissioned by Australia's National Rugby League (NRL) found that a simple solution of bleach and household detergent eliminates the virus from a shirt completely.
The NRL has ordered that all players with blood on their uniforms must leave the field to have their clothes treated. The new rule was instigated last weekend when the first round of matches in the 2001 season took place.
"It's a very simple procedure..it's just a simple matter of spraying small areas of blood contamination so that they're soaked and then washing it off," NRL's chief medical officer Dr Hugh Hazard told Reuters on Wednesday.
"Obviously if someone comes off and they've got blood all over them, we would just change the jumper," Hazard said.
Hazard said the treatment should be considered by sports where open wounds can occur, such as rugby, soccer, American Football, ice hockey and basketball.
"For any sport where you are going to get blood spilled on to clothing or equipment, it would be relevant," he said.
The potential for the transmission of the disease was highlighted in 1991, when U.S. basketball star Earvin "Magic" Johnson revealed he had contracted the HIV virus through heterosexual sex.
MOTHER SPARKS AIDS ACTION
Australia's NRL commissioned a study into how best to deal with the virus after a mother called Sydney talkback radio late last year saying she was concerned her son might contract HIV through contact with bloody jumpers while playing football.
Hazard said it was already known HIV virus could survive for up to 28 days outside the body but he stressed there was no evidence that HIV had ever been contracted through contact with blood-soaked clothing.
However the NRL commissioned the study because it was still concerned about the potential for blood-borne viruses to be transmitted and because it wanted to provide greater protection.
The study, conducted by St Vincent's Hospital's Centre for Immunology in Sydney, showed traces of the HIV virus could be found in blood-soaked clothing after washing in normal detergents.
It then examined alternative ways to kill the virus and found that a simple solution of two percent household detergent and 0.5 percent standard bleach killed the virus almost immediately.
The treatment could also help guard against the transmission of other diseases, such as the hepatitis virus, Hazard said.
Hazard said Australian rugby league in the early 1980s became the first sport in the world to institute a "blood bin" rule forcing players to leave the field for treatment on open and running wounds.