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Hosts' Injections Create Tense Moment on TV

September 25, 1993|GREG BRAXTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ABC's "Home" show host Gary Collins on Friday took a blood test for the human immunodeficiency virus, which causes AIDS, after a doctor demonstrating flu shots during a live television broadcast accidentally injected co-host Sarah Purcell with the same needle he had just used for Collins.

Collins' manager, Ray Katz, later reported that the results were negative for the virus.

The incident, which was broadcast live on the East Coast and shown by tape delay at 10 a.m. on the West Coast, was live television drama at its most unexpected, one of the participants said.

"This illustrates the best and the worst of live television," said Dr. Art Ulene, the show's resident medical specialist.

At the urging of colleagues, Collins took the test right after the conclusion of the show, ABC officials said.

The two hosts were injected with the same syringe by Dr. Edward Gilbert of Burbank during a segment taped in Los Angeles on flu inoculations.

During the segment, Collins sat in a chair while Gilbert injected him with the flu vaccine. Collins left the chair and Purcell sat down.

Gilbert's hand was seen in a close-up swabbing Purcell's arm with alcohol, then injecting her with the syringe. They seemed to notice at the same time that the plunger on the syringe was already down and that something was amiss.

"I gave you an injection, and I don't want this on television," Gilbert said, alarmed.

"Well, it's too late," Purcell responded. "Now what?"

Visibly shaken, Gilbert said, "I have two injections, and I gave you his. I'm going to be on national news."

"This isn't a joke, is it?" said Purcell, who did not appear alarmed.

"No, it is not," Gilbert said.

As the show cut to a commercial break, Gilbert was heard saying to Purcell, "I have never . . . "

When the show came back on the air, Gilbert was gone. Ulene, who was nearby during the segment but did not participate in the inoculations, joined Purcell. Ulene, who suggested that Collins take the HIV test, said the doctor was devastated by the accident.

Ulene told Purcell: "We had a decent, wonderful, caring physician who, under the pressure of these lights and audience and floor/stage managers and people coming around, turned around and had two syringes that looked the same, and picked up the wrong one and stuck you with it."

When Purcell questioned him about what she should be worried about, Ulene replied, "The only concerns we have ought to be the HIV and hepatitis viruses, and those are legitimate concerns."

Even though Ulene said that Purcell's risk is infinitesimal and that there was no cause to believe that Collins had the AIDS virus, both he and Collins agreed that taking the test would be a good precaution.

Sharing a syringe is one of the most common ways for both the AIDS and hepatitis B viruses to be transmitted from one individual to another. A small amount of blood from the first user remains in the syringe and may be injected into the second user.

Even if the AIDS virus is present in the blood, however, it is very fragile and dies quickly. The odds that it will be transmitted to the second user are less than one in 100, physicians say.

During the broadcast, Purcell did not seem bothered by the incident. She participated in other segments, including one on travel and ice cream.

Later in the show, Ulene again defended Gilbert: "He could have pretended that nothing happened, but this man has such integrity that he had to say right then and there what he had done."

The audience applauded as Collins kissed Purcell on the cheek and assured her that he would get a blood test right after the show.

Gilbert, Collins and Purcell could not be reached for comment. Collins is expected to talk about the HIV test on Monday's "Home" show.

Times medical writer Thomas H. Maugh II contributed to this story.

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