Broward County bus drivers will be given latex gloves if they fear catching the AIDS virus or other diseases when collecting transfers from passengers.
As of Friday, the disposable gloves were available at no cost to the 400 county bus drivers. The gloves were provided after some drivers, expressing fear of AIDS, hepatitis B and other diseases, refused to handle passengers' transfer slips.
"It's the '90s," said Mike Gurge, a 10-year veteran driver. "These diseases are there. A lot of these guys are terrified. I don't think the idea is for people to wear them at all time, just to have them in the event of an emergency. We feel we want to be protected as best we can."
Transfers, used by riders to connect from one bus to another, are paper slips that riders hand to the driver as they board. Some drivers in the county north of Miami have stopped touching the transfers, telling passengers to drop them into a basket or a paper bag. Riders drop their money directly into fare boxes.
The county does not think that drivers or riders are at risk of catching serious diseases on buses, Transit Director Mike Scanlon said.
"It's a commentary on the times in which we live," Scanlon said. "I think you have a better chance of winning the lottery. But if employees have a serious concern, I think that's worthy of our attention. Some have a reluctance to believe medical science."
The gloves drew disbelief from AIDS educators, who said drivers need to be better informed about how the virus is transmitted.
"That's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard," said Martha Harrop, director of resident care at Broward House, an AIDS residential center.
The risk of catching hepatitis B or the AIDS virus by touching a piece of paper, even if it's contaminated with a bodily fluid, is remote, medical experts say.
"The risk would be very, very low, if there's any risk at all," said Dr. Robert Self, medical executive director of the state/Broward County Public Health Unit. "HIV and hepatitis B are normally sexually transmitted diseases. If you have direct contact with blood or body fluids and you have an open lesion, it is possible that an infection could be acquired. . . . Objects are not normally an area of transmission."