As if $3.99 a gallon wasn't scary enough!
Date Added: June 28, 2002
The threat of HIV infection has been with us now for more than two decades, and we've made great strides in understanding what the disease is and how it is spread. But HIV and AIDS are very serious and devastating afflictions with a social stigma unequaled in recorded history. So, it comes as no surprise that e-mail messages that warn of new and bizarre ways for "innocent" people to be infected are passed on with such urgency as the one below. But is this really happening, or is it just somebody's imaginings of something that could happen?
Please take a couple minutes to read this warning about Gas Pumping Handles. Warning: Look at the gas pump handle BEFORE you pump your gas. Please read and forward to anyone you know who drives a car.
My name is Captain Abraham Sands of the Jacksonville, Florida, Police Department. I have been asked by state and local authorities to write this email in order to get the word out to car drivers of a very dangerous prank that is occurring in numerous states. Some person or persons have been affixing hypodermic needles to the underside of gas pump handles! These needles appear to be infected with HIV positive blood. In the Jacksonville area alone, there have been 17 cases of people being stuck by these needles over the past (5) months. We have verified reports of at least 12 others in various states around the country. It is believed that these may be copycat incidents due to someone reading about the crimes or seeing them reported on television. At this point no one has been arrested and catching the perpetrator(s) has become our top priority. Shockingly, of the 17 people who were stuck, 8 have tested HIV positive and because of the nature of the disease, the others could test positive in a couple years.
Evidently the consumers go to fill their car with gas, and when picking up the pump handle get stuck with the infected needle.
IT IS IMPERATIVE TO CAREFULLY CHECK THE HANDLE of the gas pump each time you use one. LOOK AT EVERY SURFACE YOUR HAND MY TOUCH, INCLUDING UNDER THE HANDLE.
If you do find a needle affixed to one, immediately contact your local police department so they can collect the evidence.
PLEASE HELP US BY MAINTAINING VIGILANCE, AND BY FORWARDING THIS EMAIL TO ANYONE YOU KNOW WHO DRIVES. THE MORE PEOPLE WHO KNOW OF THIS, THE BETTER PROTECTED WE CAN ALL BE.
In 2008, this missive migrated to Canada and picked up some new victims of attribution, namely the Ontario Provincial Police Department and the University of Western Ontario.
Subject: OPP Warning! (Canada) - URGENT I received this warning this morning from a friend who is a detective in the London Police Force. Rather disturbing to think this kind of thing is happening out there and t he impact that it will have on so many people.
Please read and then be careful.
OPP Warning! (Canada) - URGENT
Please read and forward to anyone you know who drives.
My name is Captain Abraham Sands of the Ontario Provincial Police Department. I have been asked by local authorities to write this email in order to get the word out to car drivers of a very dangerous prank that is occurring in numerous cities. Some person or persons have been affixing hypodermic needles to the underside of gas pump handles. These needles appear to be infected with HIV positive blood. In the Simcoe area alone there have been 17 cases of people being stuck by these needles over the past five months.
We have verified reports of at least 12 others in various provinces around the country. It is believed that these may be copycat incidents due to someone ! reading about the crimes or seeing them reported on the television.
At this point no one has been arrested and catching the perpetrator(s) has become our top priority. Shockingly, of the 17 people who were stuck, eight have tested HIV positive and because of the nature of the disease, the others could test positive in a couple years. Evidently the consumers go to fill their car with gas, and when picking up the pump handle get stuck with the infected needle.
IT IS IMPERATIVE TO CAREFULLY CHECK THE HANDLE OF THE GAS PUMP EACHTIME YOU USE ONE. LOOK AT EVERY SURFACE YOUR HAND MAY TOUCH, INCLUDING UNDER THE HANDLE. If you do find a needle affixed to one, immediately contact your local police department so they can collect the evidence. Please pass this message on to all the people you know.]
Janet L. Brown PT, BScPT, MEd
Urban legends about people being infected with HIV by an accidental or sadistic needle stick incident have been going around almost as long as AIDS itself. Yarns usually tell of a "relative of a person I know" or some other remote but "real" individual to whom the supposed event actually occurred.
This message features all of the cliches we've come to loathe: It tells of a specific event that is both outrageous and believable and generalizes it to imply that it is widespread. It tells of terrible consequences that befell innocent, unsuspecting folks. It uses all capital letters to give you a dire warning and important instructions to protect yourself. Finally, it makes an impassioned plea to you to help save humanity by forwarding the message on to as many people as possible.
Urban legends are usually built upon universally accepted themes. Themes prevalent in this one are: "Diseases are bad", "even good people can get terrible diseases" and "some people are evil and want to hurt others." The wide acceptability of these themes helps this message seem more credible.
What sets this one apart from typical urban legend is the attribution to Captain Sands of the Jacksonville Sheriff's Department. However, it is this attribution that allows us to easily categorize this legend as a hoax. The Jacksonville, Florida, Sheriff's Department denies the existence of both Captain Sands and any evidence that the practice of baiting gas pump handles with tainted needles. Over the years, the message has picked up a variety of names seemingly adding credibility, but they are all examples of False Attribution Syndrome.
As for the Canadian version, someone merely regionalized it, changing the name of the department, but not the fictional officer. UWO's Professor Brown also has nothing to do with this warning other than being the unwitting victim of False Attribution Syndrome. James A. McCloskey, Central Information Security Officer with the University of Western Ontario, asked BreakTheChain.org for assistance in stopping calls to the university and Professor Brown.
"Professor Brown and the University of Western Ontario are NOT involved in circulating or validating this urban legend. Regrettably, Professor Brown's credentials have been added by someone forwarding this recently, and she's been inundated by responses - many expressing concern about the University's reputation."
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have received many inquiries about this and other needle-stick legends about needles being found in movie theaters and pay telephone coin returns, among other everyday locations. They call the scenarios rare and the risk of of infection from such a stick unlikely (emphasis added):
"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.
"CDC was informed of one incident in Virginia of a needle stick from a small-gauge needle (believed to be an insulin needle) in a coin return slot of a pay phone. The incident was investigated by the local police department. Several days later, after a report of this police action appeared in the local newspaper, a needle was found in a vending machine but did not cause a needle-stick injury.
"Discarded needles are sometimes found in the community outside of health care settings. These needles are believed to have been discarded by persons who use insulin or are injection drug users. Occasionally the "public" and certain groups of workers (e.g., sanitation workers or housekeeping staff) may sustain needle-stick injuries involving inappropriately discarded needles. Needle-stick injuries can transfer blood and blood-borne pathogens (e.g., hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and HIV), but the risk of transmission from discarded needles is extremely low."
This legend has been around since at least 2000 and resurfaces from time to time. Interestingly, it becomes particularly popular whenever there's a spike in gasoline prices, such as the summer of 2005, when gas prices hit the $2.50 a gallon mark. Now, with prices at an all-time high and showing no signs of slowing their climb, I suspect this one will be around for a while. Help save your friends and family a lot of pain and suffering by NOT propagating this fear-driven urban legend! Break this Chain.
References: About.com, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention