Sweeping new laws allowing up to five year’s jail time for people who spit or throw bodily materials at police officers or emergency service workers in South Australia are not based on medical evidence.


ASHM Acting CEO Scott McGill expressed concern that the proposed legislation conflates different extremes of offending (including spitting and the throwing of urine and faeces) and treats them as identical risks in the transmission of viruses.


“Any law that criminalises the act of spitting as equivalent to deliberate exposure to other human biological materials is not based in medical evidence,” McGill said.


Media reports on spitting incidents often focus on fear about the transmission of HIV and other blood-borne viruses (BBVs), fears that are not grounded in evidence.


Dr Sam Elliott, an Adelaide-based HIV and Hepatitis specialist GP and ASHM Board Member advised that BBVs are not transmitted by spitting.


“While spitting at a police officer or emergency service worker is a deeply offensive act, the medical reality is that the risk of BBV transmission in this manner is not common,” Dr Elliott said.


“Misinformation about how these viruses are transmitted compounds stigma and constrains the ability of health services to target and engage people at risk. Medical evidence in media reports and clarity in legislative response to this issue is vital.”


McGill urged that policy should be based on clinical evidence, rather than common myths about how viruses are transmitted.


“Perpetuating these only heighten anxiety about the possibility of contracting viruses, and misrepresent the risks involved,” McGill said.


ASHM is available to provide clinical guidance to media and policymakers on the realistic risk of viral transmission to police and emergency workers.


The ASHM resource on Emergency Service Workers and Blood-Borne Viruses is available online – click here.