(NEW YORK) -- Delta passenger James Tonges told ABC News on Tuesday that he is taking an anti-HIV drug after biting into a needle-laden turkey sandwich, but he still has a lot of worry to chew on.
Tonges will “certainly” have sleepless nights over the incident, wondering about his health, according to Dr. William Schaffner, chairman of Preventive Medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Tennessee. The risk is small, but he could have been exposed to the HIV virus or hepatitis B or C.
Half a dozen sewing needles were found on four separate flights from Amsterdam bound for Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport.
“It’s quite understandable to have confusion and anger over what happened with a needle hidden in a sandwich,” said Schaffner. “Needles have nothing to do with making sandwiches in my house. Someone must have put them there.”
Doctors put Tonges on the antiretroviral drug Truvada, which was just approved by the Food and Drug Administration this week for HIV prevention. The drug has been used in the past for post-exposure to the virus and off-label for health care workers who are inadvertently exposed to the virus through needle accidents.
“It was on the second bite into the sandwich, it actually poked the top of my mouth. It was about one inch long, straight needle. It was on the second bite into the sandwich, it actually poked the top of my mouth,” Tonges told ABC’s Good Morning America. “Since it punctured the top of my mouth, I had to be put on medication, and we’re waiting to see if there’s any type of substance on the needle. They’re doing their examination right now.”
“Right now, they say I am OK,” he said. “They said if I started developing symptoms like nausea and headaches, go to the emergency room right away. It’s just a wait-and-see game now.”
A person cannot acquire HIV through ingestion, but the virus could be transmitted through a puncture wound such as the one Tonges experienced. Short-term use of the drug — usually three months — has few side effects, according to Schaffner.
HIV can survive on a surface like a needle for a period of days, depending on whether it has dried or the nature of the surface and conditions like humidity. The risk is small, but real, and patients need “a lot of education and assurances,” he said.
The sandwiches were provided by the gourmet catering company Gate Gourmet. Authorities are treating this as a criminal act and say it represents a gaping hole in airline security.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio