Summary

  • People cannot be banned from playing sport just because they are infected with a blood-borne virus (BBV) such as HIV or hepatitis B or C.
  • You cannot catch HIV or hepatitis B or C just from playing sport with an infected player.
  • To prevent transmission of BBVs follow infection control guidelines, implement the ‘blood rule’ policy, and wear gloves when helping bleeding players.
People with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), hepatitis B or hepatitis C participate in a wide range of sports without restrictions. The risk that a player infected with one of these blood-borne viruses (BBVs) will spread it to other players is extremely small. For example, there are no documented cases of transmission of HIV from one athlete to another during participation in a sporting event. It is unlawful to prevent a person infected with HIV, hepatitis B or hepatitis C from participating in sport. Infection control guidelines or the ‘blood rule’ help keep all sportspeople, coaches, trainers and officials from a range of infections including these blood-borne viruses. 

How HIV and hepatitis B and C are spread

HIV damages the immune system and can cause acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) if untreated. Hepatitis B and C are viruses that can cause serious damage to the liver. 

To become infected with HIV or hepatitis B or C while playing sports, body fluids such as blood from an infected person would need to enter your bloodstream through:

  • a significant abrasion (cut) on your skin
  • a bleeding wound
  • your mucous membranes (such as in your mouth or eyes). 

HIV and hepatitis B are spread in similar ways. Because both HIV and hepatitis B are found in blood, semen and vaginal fluids, these infections are transmitted: 

  • by having condomless anal, vaginal or oral sex with an infected person
  • by sharing needles, syringes and other injecting equipment with an infected person
  • from mother to baby during childbirth or breastfeeding.

Hepatitis C is spread through blood-to-blood transmission only, but is not thought to be sexually transmitted unless blood is present.

Chronic hepatitis B infection

People with hepatitis B can develop symptomless, mild, or severe illness. In most cases, the person clears the infection and they become immune. However, a small percentage of those infected will develop chronic hepatitis and be potentially infectious to others, as they do not naturally clear the infection themselves.

Infection of HIV and hepatitis during sport

The risk of catching HIV or hepatitis B or C from an infected player is: 

  • extremely low for other athletes and players involved in contact sports
  • extremely low for first aid officers who follow infection control guidelines
  • extremely unlikely for coaches, trainers, officials and spectators.

HIV and hepatitis B or C cannot be caught from: 

  • sweat or saliva from other sportspeople
  • sharing drink bottles with team members
  • shared toilets, showers or spas
  • hugging or shaking hands.

HIV and hepatitis and participation in sport

The Equal Opportunity Act 2010 makes it unlawful in Victoria to fail or refuse to select a person with HIV or hepatitis B or C for a sporting team, or to exclude them from participating in a sporting activity, because they have HIV or hepatitis B or C. 

People with these viruses are not required to disclose their health status to coaches, sporting teams or sporting organisations. They are entitled to keep the fact that they have HIV, hepatitis B or C confidential.

Protecting everyone involved in sport against HIV and hepatitis

Consult your sporting organisation’s infection control policies. Simple and inexpensive procedures can prevent the spread of HIV, hepatitis B and C, including: 

  • Remember to cover all pre-existing wounds before starting a game.
  • Wear protective gloves when giving first aid to bleeding players.
  • If someone’s eyes have been splashed with blood – with the eyes open, rinse the area gently but thoroughly with water or normal saline, rinsing away from the nose.
  • If blood gets in your mouth – spit it out and rinse your mouth with water several times.
  • Standard practice is to stop play if a player is bleeding and allow them to return to play only after bleeding is controlled and the wound is properly covered.
  • Bandage any wounds that occur, and properly clean any playing surfaces and change any clothes exposed to blood before play restarts.
  • Have your own drink bottle and towel, mouth guard and other personal items, including razors, to reduce the possibility of small amounts of blood-to-blood transmission. 
  • If you are concerned about potential infection, contact a doctor or health information line for further advice.

If a player is injured while playing sport: 

  • Remember to wear protective gloves when giving first aid to a player who is bleeding.
  • Stop the bleeding from the wound.
  • Dress the wound.
  • Clean up the blood.

All players, coaches, trainers, sporting officials and first aid officers should be aware of these infection control guidelines and treat every injury associated with blood as a potential source of HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C.

Protecting against HIV and hepatitis off the field

It is important to practise safe sex when off the field by using condoms and water-based lubricant to protect yourself from HIV, hepatitis B and other sexually transmissible infections. 

People who inject steroids or other performance enhancing drugs are at risk of HIV and both hepatitis B and C, if they share needles, syringes or any injecting equipment such as swabs or tourniquets. Injecting equipment should be used once only and never shared.

Immunisation against hepatitis B

You can be immunised against hepatitis B, but not against HIV or hepatitis C. Those responsible for managing on-field injuries and players involved in contact sports are strongly advised to be immunised against hepatitis B. Use infection control procedures even if you are immunised.

Where to get help

More information

Sexually transmissible infections

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Content Partner

This page has been produced in consultation with and approved by: Melbourne Sexual Health Centre

Last updated: March 2018

Content on this website is provided for education and information purposes only. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your doctor or other registered health professional. Content has been prepared for Victorian residents and wider Australian audiences, and was accurate at the time of publication. Readers should note that, over time, currency and completeness of the information may change. All users are urged to always seek advice from a registered health care professional for diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.