Man arrested for mailing President Obama a letter stained with HIV-infected blood

The following material was adapted from FoxNews.com’s original article.  To see the entire piece, visit http://www.foxnews.com/politics/first100days/2009/02/27/chicago-man-arrested-allegedly-targeting-obama-hiv-infected-blood/  Please read about this interesting case below:

A man from President Obama’s hometown of Chicago has been arrested for allegedly sending Obama and his staff envelopes containing HIV-infected blood, in the hopes of killing or harming them. 

It’s only the second time ever that HIV-infected blood has been sent with malicious intent through the U.S. mail system, a spokesman for the U.S. Postal Inspection Service said.

In the weeks leading up to Obama’s inauguration, Saad Hussein, an Ethiopian refugee in his late 20’s, sent an envelope addressed to “Barack Obama” to offices of the Illinois government in Springfield, Ill., according to court documents. The envelope contained a series of unusual items, including a letter with reddish stains and an admission ticket for Obama’s election-night celebration in Chicago’s Grant Park. Court documents said Hussein, who takes drugs to treat a mental illness, later told FBI agents he is “very sick with HIV” and cut his fingers with a razor so he could bleed on the letter.

Hazmat teams were called in after the envelope was opened, and offices of the Illinois Department on Aging and the Department of Revenue were locked down for nearly two hours, locking 300 staffers in their offices, court documents said.

Hussein, with his brother acting as an interpreter, told FBI agents he was actually “an admirer” of Obama and was “seeking help from the government,” according to court documents. He also told them he was hoping to obtain tickets to the inaugural ceremonies in Washington, the documents said.

Days after sending the letter to Obama, Hussein allegedly placed two more letters in the mail, one addressed to “Emanuel,” an apparent reference to Obama’s current chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel. The two letters contained what appeared to be dried blood, the court documents said.

Hussein, who has never held a job in the three years he’s been in the United States, was arrested last month. An affidavit filed at the time accused Hussein of “knowingly” mailing letters “containing HIV-infected blood, with the intent to kill or injure another,” in violation of federal law.

The affidavit does not address whether the letters could have actually killed or injured anyone. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HIV is spread only through sexual contact with an infected person, through sharing needles with an infected person, or through blood transfusions of infected blood.

After Hussein’s arrest, he was placed in a Chicago correctional facility. He has yet to be formally charged. A judge ordered he receive a mental examination to see if he’s fit for trial, but as of two weeks ago the court couldn’t locate a translator to conduct the examination, according to court documents.

A publicly-appointed attorney representing Hussein declined comment, saying he was “not at liberty to discuss pending criminal matters.”

The latest case marks the second time HIV-infected blood has been sent through the U.S. mail. In 2006 a “disturbed individual” placed a plastic vial of HIV-infected blood in the mail, according to Rendina. The unidentified individual was arrested and charged, and is now receiving psychiatric treatment at a federal medical detention center, Rendina said.

A clarifying note from VT CARES:

Handling a letter stained with the dried blood of an HIV positive individual would NOT put a person at risk for contracting HIV/AIDS.  This is partly because HIV dies very quickly once it is exposed to air, and also because the blood (and only if it had not yet dried…) would have to get into a person’s blood stream in order to potentially infect them. 

To obtain data on the survival of HIV, laboratory studies usually use artificially high concentrations of laboratory-grown virus. Although these concentrations of HIV can be kept alive for days or even weeks under controlled conditions, studies have shown that drying of these high concentrations of HIV reduces the amount of infectious virus by 90 to 99 percent within a few hours.

Since the HIV concentrations used in laboratory studies are much higher than those actually found in blood or other specimens, the real risk of HIV infection from dried bodily fluids is effectively zero.

That being said, HIV is present in four bodily fluids (blood, semen, vaginal secretions, and breast milk), and can be transmitted in the following ways:

1) Unprotected penetrative sex with someone who is infected

2) Injection or transfusion of contaminated blood or blood products, donations of semen (artificial insemination), skin grafts or organ transplants taken from someone who is infected.

3) From a mother who is infected to her baby; this can occur during pregnancy, at birth and through breastfeeding.

4) Sharing unsterilised injection equipment that has previously been used by someone who is infected.

If you would like clarification, or have any additional questions regarding the transmission of HIV, please don’t hesitate to contact VT CARES at (802) 863-2437. 


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