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HIV Infected Needles on UK Cinema Seats Hoax

Summary:
Email forward claims that UK cinema visitors have been injured by HIV infected needles deliberately left on cinema seats (Full commentary below.)



Status:
False

Example:(Submitted, October 2005)
This message is serious and has been passed to us from Cheshire RFU.

Could you please cascade as quickly as possible as this came through our NHS web page.

For your information, a couple of weeks ago, in the odeon cinema, Festival Park, a person sat on something sharp in one of the seats. When she stood up to see what it was, a needle was found poking through the seat with an attached note saying, "you have been infected with HIV". The Centres for Disease Control in Birmingham, reports similar events have taken place in several other cities recently.

ALL of the needles tested HAVE been found positive for HIV. The CDC also reports that needles have been found in the coin return areas of pay phones and coke machines. Everyone is asked to use extreme caution when confronted with these types of situations. All public chairs should be thoroughly but safely inspected prior to any use. A thorough visual inspection is considered the bare minimum. Further more, they ask that everyone notify their family members and friends of the potential dangers, as well. The previous information was sent from hanley police station to all of the local councils in the Staffs area and was interdepartmentally dispersed.

We were all asked to pass this to as many people as possible.

[Name Removed]
Assistant Health & Safety Adviser
Health & Safety Unit
[Contact details removed]




Commentary:
The hoax message shown above is just one in a long line of similar hoaxes. From time to time, a new version emerges, often localized to suit a particular area of the world.

This version is set in the UK and tries to back up its spurious claims by stating that the message originated at the National Health Service (NHS) website. However, a search of the NHS website reveals no such warning. The message also claims that the report has been confirmed by the "Centres for Disease Control", supposedly located in Birmingham. However, the UK based Centre for Infections, which is part of the Health Protection Agency, makes no mention of HIV infected needles being deliberately left on cinema seats.

The US based Centres for Disease Control (CDC) does make mention of the claims in an article about HIV related rumours. The CDC notes that:
CDC has received inquiries about a variety of reports or warnings about used needles left by HIV-infected injection drug users in coin return slots of pay phones, the underside of gas pump handles, and on movie theater seats. These reports and warnings have been circulated on the Internet and by e-mail and fax. Some reports have falsely indicated that CDC "confirmed" the presence of HIV in the needles. CDC has not tested such needles nor has CDC confirmed the presence or absence of HIV in any sample related to these rumors. The majority of these reports and warnings appear to have no foundation in fact.
According to the article, used needles are sometimes discarded in areas where they could potentially cause harm to the public. It is certainly possible that some heinous individual might deliberately leave a syringe in a place where it could cause injury to an unsuspecting member of the public. However, there is no evidence that a deliberate campaign to infect cinemagoers with HIV is taking place in the UK or anywhere else in the world.

The hoax also mentions that the message "was sent from hanley police station". Hanley is a town in Staffordshire, England. However, the Staffordshire Police denied the claims in an official news release previously published on its website. The article stated that they have received no reports about a visitor to a cinema being injured by a needle left on the seat. According to a Stoke-on-Trent Police spokesman quoted in the article:
We have received no such reports, and we believe that this e-mail has been written to cause fear and alarm to members of the public. I urge members of the public not to send this e-mail on to others and to simply delete it. We have made contact with the organisations mentioned in the e-mail and none are aware of any such incident.
Other versions of this hoax claim that HIV infected needles have been deliberately left on gas pump handles. There have been US, Canadian, Australian and French versions of the hoax as well as the UK based version discussed here.

These emails should be deleted rather than forwarded.

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References:
NHS website
Centre for Infections
CDC - Rumors, Myths, and Hoaxes
HIV Needle Hoax

Last updated: 29th January 2010
First published: October, 2005
Article written by Brett M. Christensen
About Brett Christensen and Hoax-Slayer