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A pin prick attack is a hypothetical assault on another person with a needle or syringe tainted with the blood of somebody carrying a blood disease, such as AIDS. Although there have been numerous cases of people being attacked with needles and syringes the idea that people infected with AIDS have deliberately attempted to infect others in this manner is generally considered an urban legend and there is to date only one documented case of a pin prick attack leading directly to the transmission of HIV.

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Origins

Although fanciful tales of so called 'needle men' or white slavers who supposedly injected unsuspecting young girls with morphine then carrying them away into a life of prostitution had been around since the 1930s the legend probably has its roots in a 1989 incident where ten teenage girls were arrested and later charged with stabbing numerous women with pins in the Upper West Side area of New York [1]. Coming near the height of the 1980s AIDS scares this led to a great deal of panic amongst the local community although health officials were keen to stress that the chances of anybody contracting the virus in this way were practically zero and nobody affected in the attacks subsequently tested positive for HIV.

As an email/internet scare story

The acension of the internet in the 1990s led to the rise of numerous Urban Legends concerning the pin prick attack which could be quickly spread via email and discussion forums which soon assumed a standardised form. The email would take the form of a warning to others that a young person had been visiting a cinema or a night club when they felt a slight prick on their arm. Not taking any notice they would carry on with their leisure activity and it was only later that they would find stuck to their clothes or in their pocket a badge or sticker carrying the slogan 'welcome to the AIDS club' followed a few months later with a positive HIV test [2]. These rumours bear similarities to the so called AIDS Mary legends of the 1980s whereby a man would enjoy a one night stand with a stranger at his house and awaken the next morning to find the stranger gone and the words 'Welcome to the AIDS Club' written in red lipstick on his bathroom mirror [3]. However the American Center for Disease Control has stressed on numerous occasions that it has yet to confirm a single case of HIV as being transmitted in this fashion [4] and have dismissed such emails as a hoax. The motive behind such emails appears to be little more than a scare story intended to frighten the recipient into staying away from leisure establishments by playing on the public fear of AIDS and the notion that an individual could be infected with a killer disease through no fault of their own.

Sole example

The sole example of a pin prick attack leading to the deliberate transmission of HIV occurred at the Long Bay Jail in Sydney in 1991 when prison officer Gary Pearce was attacked by HIV infected prisoner Graham Farlow which resulted in him being stabbed with a syringe full of Farlow's infected blood. Despite immediate medical attention and the 'one in 200' chance of being infected Pearce did test positive for the disease a few months later and died of an AIDS related illness in 1997 [5].

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