HIV+ Man Sprayed With Lysol, Banned From Touching Doorknobs By Dental-Clinic Employers

Nobody likes going to the dentist but for James White, going into his job as an office worker at Great Expressions Dental Center in Eastside Detroit was tantamount to heading into a war zone.

White, 26, was diagnosed with HIV about six months after he started working at the dental center. When he requested time off for doctors appointments (which was approved), he was asked by the office manager to explain the nature of the visits.

“I told her I had tested positive for HIV,” White told POZ magazine. “I thought it would be easier for me in the long run. I asked her not to say anything to anyone.”

But just a few days later, the company’s regional director said to White, “I hear you have AIDS.” White explained that he was HIV+ but the doctor replied that there was no difference between HIV and AIDS. Then, according to White, he said “it was okay because I did not work in back with the patients.”

But it was not “okay”—it was the start of a seven-month period of abuse and discrimination that landed White in the hospital and gave him post-traumatic stress disorder.

As POZ‘s Todd Heywood reports:

“[White] says he was prohibited from touching doorknobs in the office. Staff members followed him around with Lysol, spraying and wiping down the surfaces he touched. He was subjected to unexpected changes in his schedule—called and told to come in later than scheduled, or to leave earlier than expected. When he complied with the scheduling offers, he was written up for unexcused absences.

After months of this, he said he was overwhelmed.

His health took a turn for the worse, and he was hospitalized for a week. During that time, the clinic decided to fire him. They called him the day before he was to return to work and informed him that he was fired for excessive unexcused absences.”

“I felt like my character was destroyed,” he says. “I went from wanting to be an activist—someone who spoke to groups about HIV—to someone who didn’t want to leave my room for six months.”

White is now seeking legal recourse for what looks to be a clear-cut case of HIV-related job discrimination. And the Detroit office of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is inclined to agree: they ruled that there was reasonable cause to believe the dental company had seriously violated the Americans with Disabilities Act in their treatment of White, who still suffers complications from his time there.

White says he “blacks out” when he goes to the grocery store and doesn’t remember being there. Right before the blackouts, White says, he feels like people are following him around and sanitizing everything he touches or that people are talking about him.

His lawyer, Nicole Thompson, says that Great Expressions—which has offices in several states—declined a settlement offered by the EEOC. But neither she nor White are deterred: “We’re in it for the long haul. If we have to take it all the way to trial, we will take it all the way to trial,” said Thompson.

We hope White wins his case, but we wouldn’t mind seeing a little Texas Justice in the Motor City: Root canals without Novocaine all around.

Image by Mohamad Itani

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  • CherylP.

    I am so appalled, it is hard to think of an appropriate response to the brutality and ignorance of these disgusting people! I hope the lawsuit is won, and I hope all of the employees involved get just punishment as well! There is no excuse for that kind of hideous behavior!

  • Rusk

    I can’t believe that someone with a medical degree cannot discern the difference between HIV and AIDS.

  • Tone

    Unexpected scheduling changes sound like attempts at constructive dismissal. I hope he (metaphorically) takes the fillings out of their teeth in the lawsuit.

  • MEJ


    What do you call a person who graduates from medical school at the bottom of the class? Doctor.

  • bagooka

    This is insane.

  • meego

    This just like reverting to the early 1980’s when people thought you could contract HIV from handshakes.

  • scott ny'er

    @Rusk: Ha! I believe it. Just because you have a medical degree, a law degree, etc doesn’t mean you know crap. There are a LOT of terrible DRs, Lawyers, etc. Unfortunately, you really can’t trust anyone.

  • Hyhybt

    @meego: …except it’s not at all like the early 80’s. *Then,* it first made sense to be overly cautious since nobody knew much of anything, and then a bit further on it was at least understandable that the latest information hadn’t sunk in yet. Nowadays there is no excuse.

  • Kyle

    Can somebody give the name of the dentist, their address, and location please?

  • Kyle

    Got it, nevermind. I will look up the dentist.

  • bagooka

    @Kyle: Address and location being two different things? LOL.

  • Kyle

    @bagooka: The address number and the city. (East Detroit).

  • velocifero

    Here’s what they say on their website:

    “About Detroit Dentist – Eastside Dental

    Your Eastside Detroit Dental location accepts Medicaid for all ages. New Patients Always Welcome. Same day appts avaible.

    Great Expressions Dental Centers provides quality, affordable dental services for the entire family including general dental care, orthodontics (braces), pedodontics, periodontics, endodontics and oral and maxillofacial surgery.”

    There’s a phone number too. Call ’em and ask them how that lawsuit is workin’ out for them.

  • truth

    So, what this office did is wrong, but I just want to point out that from a serological standpoint, there is no difference between hiv and aids. Hiv is a virus that causes AIDS, a syndrome. People who have AIDS, the syndrome, still have HIV virus in their blood and blood products.

  • B

    No. 2 · Rusk wrpte. “I can’t believe that someone with a medical degree cannot discern the difference between HIV and AIDS.”

    There isn’t a difference regarding the risk to others. There is a difference regarding the patient’s medical problems and treatment. The staff at a dental company should be educated enough to know that this guy posed no risk to anyone – no sex, not even near a patient whose gums were bleeding. That leaves malice as the only plausible explanation for his treatment.

    Apparently the HIV virus is quite fragile, not lasting more than a few seconds outside
    of a body: . The idea that they would send a guy around following him spraying lysol on anything he touched is completely idiotic.

    I’d not only beat on the company for discrimination, but have the outfit investigated for possible incompetence. If this is really representative of their understanding of medicine, they are a risk to their patients.

  • caller

    I decided to call them and “make an appointment.” I told them that I was HIV+ (which I’m not) and asked them a few questions about the procedure for someone who is HIV+ with working with a patient. I even asked her if I was allowed to touch the doorknobs and little things as that. The woman on the phone was very nice to me, but it doesn’t mean anything. At least she was polite to a “patient” who was HIV+ with questions.

  • Thomas Alex

    I hope they settle for millions! He deserves every cent! Ignorant people make me sick.

    “No. 2 · Rusk wrpte. “I can’t believe that someone with a medical degree cannot discern the difference between HIV and AIDS.”
    There isn’t a difference regarding the risk to others.”

    Actually there’s. HIV vs AIDS is based on their viral load. People with HIV have lower viral loads, especially if they’re taking meds they can be referred to as undetectable. In which the chances of catching the virus is less than 5%. So your wrong when you say there’s no difference, because there’s.

  • Hyhybt

    @Thomas Alex: There’s no difference that’s relevant for purposes of transmission from one office worker to another in the course of business: in both cases, it’s 0%.

  • W

    @B: @B:

    Not to mention, I dont think lysol kills the HIV virus

  • Jason


    In other words, they come out looking like nice, decent people and you come out looking like an idiot.

  • Hyhybt

    There’s no *point* in calling them. If you’re trying to gauge how they treat you over the phone, well, they know about the complaint and not to say anything stupid. If you’re trying to convince them of anything other than that some people, unlike them, don’t have any real work to do, you’re wasting your time. And if you’re out to harass them… well, first, that’s wrong anyway, and second, anyone can make a complaint. There is always the slight chance that, in this case, it’s untrue.

  • B

    o. 19 · W wrote, “@B: @B: Not to mention, I dont think lysol kills the HIV virus”

    Viruses are not really alive to begin with. I wouldn’t be surprised if lysol damages the virus to the point where it can’t infect anyone – after all, a few seconds exposure to air essentially destroys the HIV virus and lysol is designed to be more damaging than air. What they are doing is to make sure that the virus is not only “truly dead”, but “most sincerely, really dead.”

  • B

    No. 17 · Thomas Alex, replying to “There isn’t a difference regarding the risk to others.” wrote, “Actually there’s. HIV vs AIDS is based on their viral load. People with HIV have lower viral loads, especially if they’re taking meds they can be referred to as undetectable. In which the chances of catching the virus is less than 5%. So your wrong when you say there’s no difference, because there’s.”

    Actually, you got it wrong. points out that in the “window period” – the time between infection and the development of enough antibodies for an HIV test to find the infection, the viral load is very high. It’s not as simple as a low viral load when HIV+ but before AIDS develops, followed by a high viral load – it can be high at various points in both stages of the illness.

    Curiously, HIV tests can become negative when the disease progresses to AIDS – presumably because a very weak immune system has trouble producing antibodies, which is what the tests detect.

  • Laura

    I learned about AIDS when I was 7 or 8 years old (Not HIV, but, like I say, I was 8 at most, and that makes it about 1983) including how it (or rather, HIV) is transmitted. I had no trouble understanding it at all.

  • Dave

    I am HIV- but I don’t shy away from touching or being near HIV+ people for a simple reason: It’s not the fucking middle ages. I guess the ignorant fucking morons at the McDentist franchise never considered the fact that when they go to a movie theater or a grocery store or any public location, they are touching things that have also been touched by HIV+ folks–as well as people with all manner of other infections that are actually transmissible via casual contact. Some people really are so stupid that putting them down might be the only constructive thing to do.

  • JJames

    The first problem began when they asked him the nature of his doctors appointment. It is a violation of HIPAA for an employer to ask an employee the nature of an appointment.

  • ezky

    why are you guys even debating whether the lysol killed the virus when there’s no HIV virus on his hands? geesh.

  • Dave

    @W: Lysol’s product labeling specifically states that it “effective against” HIV, among other viruses and pathogens. Though as “B” points out, HIV does not live very long once exposed to air anyway, and as “ezky” points out, the entire point is really moot anyway.

  • Dave

    @B: Just for the sake of information (and because it’s interesting) here’s what the US CDC says on the subject:

    “Scientists and medical authorities agree that HIV does not survive well in the environment, making the possibility of environmental transmission remote. HIV is found in varying concentrations or amounts in blood, semen, vaginal fluid, breast milk, saliva, and tears. In order to obtain data on the survival of HIV, laboratory studies have required the use of artificially high concentrations of laboratory-grown virus. Although these unnatural concentrations of HIV can be kept alive under precisely controlled and limited laboratory conditions, CDC studies have showned that drying of even these high concentrations of HIV reduces the number of infectious viruses by 90 to 99 percent within several hours. Since the HIV concentrations used in laboratory studies are much higher than those actually found in blood or other specimens, drying of HIV- infected human blood or other body fluids reduces the theoretical risk of environmental transmission to that which has been observed–essentially zero.

    “Incorrect interpretation of conclusions drawn from laboratory studies have alarmed people unnecessarily. Results from laboratory studies should not be used to determine specific personal risk of infection because 1) the amount of virus studied is not found in human specimens or anyplace else in nature, and 2) no one has been identified with HIV due to contact with an environmental surface; Additionally, since HIV is unable to reproduce outside its living host (unlike many bacteria or fungi, which may do so under suitable conditions), except under laboratory conditions, it does not spread or maintain infectiousness outside its host.

    “HIV is sensitive to fluctuations in temperature and the presence of oxygen. One place that HIV has been know to survive in is drug injection syringes since these are airtight and often contain blood from the injector.”

    As for Lysol: The disinfectant spray–both home and hospital versions–used to carry labeling saying it “killed” HIV. That claim is no longer made on Lysol’s products for ordinary consumer use for the reasons listed in the CDC quote above. Some other Lysol products, such as the liquid concentrate sold for use in hospitals and commercial establishments, still claim to be efficacious HIV-killing agents under circumstances in which HIV might survive for longer periods. For instance, Lysol quaternary disinfectant cleaner concentrate (not the old-fashioned brown stuff; that’s a phenolic disinfectant that is not as widely used in hospitals because quaternary ammonium disinfectants are usually more effective against harder-to-kill viruses) claims to kill HIV “in the presence of a moderate amount of soil (5% organic serum)”.

    In practical terms, you and ezky are both right: Even if the guy’s hands were contaminated with active HIV virus–extremely unlikely to begin with–following the poor fellow around with a spray can of Lysol served absolutely no purpose except to harass him.

  • Shannon1981

    Sheer ignorance. I hope he sues the pants off of them.

  • jereasy

    “White says he “blacks out” when he goes to the grocery store and doesn’t remember being there. Right before the blackouts, White says, he feels like people are following him around and sanitizing everything he touches or that people are talking about him.”

    I am a gay man and volunteered as an aids hotline worker for many years which means that I kept up/keep up on the latest news regarding aids, and I would not want this person within ten miles of anywhere that I receive health care. It doesn’t matter if he’s hiv+ or not. He is not mentally well.

  • Shannon1981

    @jereasy: Pretty sure this is a result of the way he was treated. That’s the point. He was fine before these douchebags treated him this way.

  • Panserbjorne

    @jereasy: You said, “He is not mentally well.”

    But isn’t that the whole point–that the treatment he received at his place of employment made him mentally unwell (“…landed White in the hospital and gave him post-traumatic stress disorder….”)? And maybe I’m naive or ignorant, but why would you not want him “within ten miles of anywhere that [you] receive health care”? As far as I can see, his PTSD symptoms are worrisome in that they include apparent paranoia and blackouts–but only worrisome for _him_. There doesn’t seem to be any indication at all that he has ever put anyone else at risk of contracting HIV (which would be very difficult anyway) or that he’s ever been violent or anti-social. If the article is accurate, his symptoms destroy his own sense of peace and security, but don’t put anyone else at any risk.

    Or is there something I’m missing?

  • Shannon1981

    What I don’t get is this: how many ways do we have to tell people that HIV is fragile and the virus has a very short lifespan outside the human body? If you aren’t sharing needles and blood or fucking someone, the chances of your contracting HIV are almost nil. End of story.

  • seaguy

    I hope he has gotten a lawyer and is sueing the pants of that dentist and his clinic for discrimination! What neanderthals.

  • seaguy

    I hope he has gotten a lawyer and is suing the pants of that dentist and his clinic for discrimination! What neanderthals.

  • Seth Edwards

    Absolutelt sickening! Sue those fuckers for everything you can!

  • Dominickj

    Well maybe not Drs. BUT Dentist who think they’re Drs.

  • Rob

    Some of the information posted here about HIV and AIDS is interesting.

    Human Immunodeficiency Virus or HIV is the virus which infects the human immune system and, over time, can cause the onset of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (“AIDS”). This typically results from a “collapse” of the immune system in its quest to fight off the invading virus. Because HIV integrates its genetic materials into the genetic material (DNA) of the host patient, it is nearly impossible to remove HIV from our genome once it has been introduced.

    Often HIV and AIDS are compared as if they are one in the same, but clinically the virus (HIV) and the syndrome (AIDS) are very different. First of all, HIV is the precursor of AIDS, as one cannot reach the point of an AIDS diagnosis without first being infected with HIV with the HIV being allowed to incubate for a long period of time without therapeutic intervention.

    From a clinical standpoint alone, patients who meet certain clinical or disease-specific markers are said to have an AIDS diagnosis. Some of these indicators include a CD4/T-Cell level below 200 or the patient has been diagnosed with two or more Opportunistic Infections (OIs). OIs are growing more rare due to the success of antiretroviral medications that keep HIV replication suppressed resulting in less damage to the immune system. Less damage to the immune system means a longer period of time without an AIDS diagnosis.

    When a patient enters care at a later stage of disease, there are often more clinical issues to be dealt with. These patients tend to have more damage to their immune systems, some have already experienced singular or recurring opportunistic infections (like Pneumocystic Pneumonia) and some may even already have forms of drug-resistant HIV if they acquired their infection from someone who was not adherent to medication.

    There can be a host of little “bugs” traveling throughout our bodies that normally do not cause illness in the presences of a healthy immune system. When that immune system is compromised, these viral or bacterial “freeloaders” can and do cause severe illness and sometimes death, like toxoplasmosis which exists in bird and cat feces and can cause brain lesions in patients who are immunocompromised.

    Washing doorknobs and other surfaces with Lysol will disinfect the surface and almost surely kill any HIV that may be present. In fact, sanitizing the surfaces at a medical/dental office is probably a good standard practice, but doing it in the way that was done to Mr. White is just maliciously and seems intended to do harm. Unless Mr. White was in the habit of smearing his blood or semen on these surfaces there is little chance of HIV being present. Hepatitis C (HCV), is a more virulent and longer-lasting virus yet little attention is being focused on it. HCV can survive in a drop of human blood for up to 24 hours outside the body. HIV does not even come close to that level of existence once removed from human tissue.

    As for the viral load and other testing as a measure of someone’s HIV, I think that’s better left to the experts. I know there are tests that look for disease antibodies, viral proteins, HIV-RNA and other indicators, but as far as patients and laypeople need to know is that HIV rarely spreads outside the body without an infected bodily fluid as a disease vector; these include blood, semen, pre-seminal fluid, vaginal secretions and breast milk. Saliva can contain HIV, but massive quantities of it (on the order of gallons) would be need to infect someone. HIV may be present in urine and tears, but the ph factor of those fluids probably does not provide a friendly environment for HIV survival or replication.

    At the end of the day Universal Precautions make sense everywhere, yet they are rarely practiced with consistency.

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