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Another Urban Legend Bites the Dust

By Kristin Woeste · June 29th, 2000 · Burning Questions
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Earlier this month, someone with a twisted sense of humor injected the Internet with a nasty little rumor: Some person or group has been attaching HIV-infected hypodermic needles to the underside of gas pumps.

The rumor began with an e-mail claiming to be from a Capt. Abraham Sands of the Jacksonville, Fla. Police Department. According to the letter, in the last five months there have been 17 cases in Jacksonville and at least 13 cases from elsewhere around the country of people being stuck by needles on gas pumps. The author claims that eight of the 17 Jacksonville cases resulted in HIV infection.

The e-mail goes on to advise motorists to check gas pump handles carefully when filling their tanks. It asks that readers forward the message to anyone they know who drives. Many did.

Is the story true?

In short, no, said John Turner, a public information officer for the Jacksonville sheriff's office.

"We've never had an Abraham Sands," said Turner, who had no idea where the e-mail originated. What he did know is that his office has received more than 1,200 calls and e-mails about the subject since June 14.

In order to curb the number of inquiries, the words "It's a Hoax!" appear on the city of Jacksonville Web site (www.coj.com). Before Web surfers can link to the sheriff's office, they must first bypass a page denouncing the rumor and saying that the office has had no reports of such incidents.

The Jacksonville sheriff isn't alone in fending off inquiries about the fictitious report. Tobia E. Cuney, whose name and telephone number appear at the bottom of Sands' e-mail, has a message on his voicemail to deter inquiries on the subject.

In his message, he says he has no first-hand knowledge about the contents of the e-mail and that he forwarded it to friends "in the interest of protecting their welfare." Cuney did not return phone calls to CityBeat to answer further questions.

The tale falls under the scope of an urban legends reference Web site, www.snopes.com, which reports that the message appeared on the Internet in early June and is completely false.

So, is it even possible to contract HIV from a needle affixed to a gas pump?

It's "very, very improbable" that a stick in these circumstances would cause infection, said Bernard Young, AIDS Coordinator for the Cincinnati Health Department.

HIV is a delicate virus, Young said. It has a gelatin-like membrane on the outside, and the virus will die if that membrane dries or deteriorates.

A frequently asked question about HIV/AIDS on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site (

 

Earlier this month, someone with a twisted sense of humor injected the Internet with a nasty little rumor: Some person or group has been attaching HIV-infected hypodermic needles to the underside of gas pumps.

The rumor began with an e-mail claiming to be from a Capt. Abraham Sands of the Jacksonville, Fla. Police Department. According to the letter, in the last five months there have been 17 cases in Jacksonville and at least 13 cases from elsewhere around the country of people being stuck by needles on gas pumps. The author claims that eight of the 17 Jacksonville cases resulted in HIV infection.

The e-mail goes on to advise motorists to check gas pump handles carefully when filling their tanks. It asks that readers forward the message to anyone they know who drives. Many did.

Is the story true?

In short, no, said John Turner, a public information officer for the Jacksonville sheriff's office.

"We've never had an Abraham Sands," said Turner, who had no idea where the e-mail originated. What he did know is that his office has received more than 1,200 calls and e-mails about the subject since June 14.

In order to curb the number of inquiries, the words "It's a Hoax!" appear on the city of Jacksonville Web site (www.coj.com). Before Web surfers can link to the sheriff's office, they must first bypass a page denouncing the rumor and saying that the office has had no reports of such incidents.

The Jacksonville sheriff isn't alone in fending off inquiries about the fictitious report. Tobia E. Cuney, whose name and telephone number appear at the bottom of Sands' e-mail, has a message on his voicemail to deter inquiries on the subject.

In his message, he says he has no first-hand knowledge about the contents of the e-mail and that he forwarded it to friends "in the interest of protecting their welfare." Cuney did not return phone calls to CityBeat to answer further questions.

The tale falls under the scope of an urban legends reference Web site, www.snopes.com, which reports that the message appeared on the Internet in early June and is completely false.

So, is it even possible to contract HIV from a needle affixed to a gas pump?

It's "very, very improbable" that a stick in these circumstances would cause infection, said Bernard Young, AIDS Coordinator for the Cincinnati Health Department.

HIV is a delicate virus, Young said. It has a gelatin-like membrane on the outside, and the virus will die if that membrane dries or deteriorates.

A frequently asked question about HIV/AIDS on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site (www.cdc.gov) asks if there's any truth to the gas pump story and other similar rumors. In its answer, updated June 19, the CDC says that most reports seem to be fictional. It also says that it's possible to transmit blood and blood-borne pathogens like HIV through needle-stick injuries, but "the risk of transmission from discarded needles is extremely low."

"CDC is not aware of any cases where HIV has been transmitted by a needle-stick injury outside a health care setting," the report said.

Has there been concern locally?

So far, the Cincinnati Police Division has heard relatively little about these reports. The only call received on the subject, a division spokesperson said, came early last week from someone concerned with exposing the story as an urban legend.

The Jacksonville sheriff's office asks that people who receive the e-mail send a reply to the source that the report is a hoax.

"They say network marketing doesn't work," Turner said. "Just think if they were selling something."

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