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A Seat Belt Shift That Can Kill

August 25, 1987|ALLAN PARACHINI | Times Staff Writer

If you shift your seat belt from over your shoulder to under your arm because the design of the conventional three-point auto safety device is uncomfortable for you, you may be unduly risking death or severe injury by defeating the restraint design of the belt.

Reporting in the Journal of Trauma, researchers at the University of Rochester School of Medicine reviewed six cases in which people who had moved the shoulder portion of their seat belts to beneath their arms had been seriously hurt or killed.

Oftentimes, the researchers found, people who shift the shoulder strap said they do so because the belt crossing the chest is uncomfortable--causing such things as jaw, neck, collarbone, chest, shoulder or breast irritation.

But the cases reviewed by the Rochester team found changing the route of the belt exposed victims to catastrophic injuries they could have avoided by using their seat belts as intended. With the belt design compromised, victims were susceptible to being thrown forward into the dashboard or steering column or even being ejected from the car during a crash.

"The motoring public must be warned that underarm use of shoulder belts is hazardous," the Rochester researchers concluded, "and may cause fatal injuries in otherwise survivable accidents."

Lesbian AIDS Risk

Since the spread of AIDS was first recognized as an epidemic, homosexual men, bisexuals, intravenous drug users and some heterosexuals have been recognized as possible victims. But gay women have generally been thought immune since their sex habits, in theory, would not put them in contact with the human immunodeficiency virus, which can lead to AIDS.

In the last few months, however, two cases of female-to-female transmission of HIV have been reported and experts have begun to caution lesbians to exercise anti-AIDS precautions, if they don't already do so. High-risk practices of particular relevance to gay women include any activities that result in bleeding of the vagina or vulva, shared use of sex toys and amorous biting.

The comments on high-risk sex for gay women were contained in a letter published in the British journal Lancet, which published one of the two recent accounts of female-female HIV transmission a few weeks ago. The first such account appeared--also as a letter to the editor--in Annals of Internal Medicine in December of last year.

In the most recent report, doctors in the Philippines reported the case of a 24-year-old gay woman dancer who tested positive for HIV after attempting to gain entry into another country. Returned to her home, she insisted she had had no heterosexual activity and was not a drug user. She had been monogamous with another woman in the Philippines except during a two-year period in which she was touring in other countries.

In the case published last year, doctors in New York reported on a 26-year-old woman who apparently contracted HIV from her female lover, who was a drug user. The 26-year-old, however, denied any drug use and her development of the AIDS virus was linked to her sexual contacts with her lover.

Reflecting on the two isolated reports, a London physician writing in the most recent issue of the Lancet, concluded female-to-female transmission of HIV "has potentially serious implications for safe-sex guidance and demands close scrutiny."

Anti-Junkie Syringe

One of the key sources of needles and syringes used by drug abusers is the legitimate medical-supply system itself, because most disposable sets consist of separate needles and syringes that can be easily separated. This makes it comparatively easy for a drug user to find a workable needle and syringe.

Now, a Scottish physician suggests a change in design that would replace the two-part apparatus with a single-unit needle-syringe, the plunger of which could only be pushed in one direction. Trying to pull the plunger out to refill the syringe with an illicit drug would result in the syringe being destroyed from within.

The proposed new syringe type is more advanced than one already produced in England in which the syringe can't be reused, but the needle can be separated for injection from an eyedropper or other equipment commonly available to junkies.

"It might be more sensible for society to come to terms with intravenous drug use with the use of the unit suggested," Dr. Philip Welsby wrote in the journal Lancet. "The alternative is to accept the cost of intravenous drug abuser-caused AIDS."

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