DAN Medical Frequently Asked Questions

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HIV/AIDS and Diving

I would like any information on diving and HIV/AIDS. I have had some requests from potential students that are honest enough to tell me that they are being treated for AIDS. I am an educator who has been through training on HIV/AIDS cultural sensitivity. Any information that you may have would be beneficial.

There are no specific data that say HIV positive patients should not dive. Fitness-to-dive will oftentimes depend on the patient's condition and the presence of any exercise restrictions. There is, however, some debate over whether cognitive impairment occurs early in HIV disease. Reported findings are usually sub-clinical, tend to affect only a minority of sufferers and their relationship to actual functioning has not been established. Additional concerns suggest that hyperbaric oxygen may reduce the effectiveness of the blood-brain barrier, the brain’s protective mechanism from certain damaging substances, thereby accelerating the onset of cerebral AIDS. Increasing evidence of early onset sub-clinical neuro-psychiatric problems coupled with the theoretical concern that diving could accelerate them, suggests that HIV positive divers should be warned accordingly. AIDS is also often associated with lung infection, which could in some cases predispose the diver to pulmonary barotrauma. Therefore, if the diver actually has AIDS, rather than just HIV infection, we would recommend a follow-up with a physician and evaluation of barotrauma risk after any pulmonary infection.

In general, HIV positive divers should avoid buddy breathing where two divers use the same regulator. The HIV positive diver should have an octopus regulator or alternate air source (i.e. pony or bailout bottle) and make sure their regulators are sufficiently disinfected after use.

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