Needles Hidden Under Gas Pump Handles Are an Urban Legend

Viral Hoax

Man pumping gas
There have been no reports of HIV-infected needles in gas pumps. Tom Merton / Getty Images

A viral alert warns that evildoers are exposing innocent victims to the AIDS virus by attaching HIV-contaminated needles to gas pump handles. This is a long-discredited hoax that has been circulating since 2000 but continues to crop up years and even decades later.

The samples of the hoax postings are included for your comparison. If you receive a similar warning via email or social media, you can safely ignore it.

It's best not to continue circulating this hoax.

  • Description: Internet hoax via email and social media
  • Circulating since: June 2000
  • Status: False

Example of the Hoax Email

Email contributed by R. Anderson, June 13, 2000:

Please read and forward to anyone you know who drives.

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 five 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 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 where 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 each time 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 HELP US BY MAINTAINING A 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. **********

Example of Social Media Posting 2013

As posted on Facebook, Jan. 26, 2013:

HIV/AIDS Needles hidden under gas pumps

In Florida and other places on the East Coast a group of people are putting HIV/AIDS infected and filled needles underneath gas pump handles so when someone reaches to pick it up and put gas in their car, they get stabbed with it. 16 people have been a victim of this crime so far and 10 tested HIC positive. Instead of posting that stupid crap about how your love life will suck for years to come of you don't re-post, post this. It's important to inform people, even if you don't drive, a family member might, and what if they were next? CHECK UNDER THE HANDLE BEFORE YOU GRAB IT!!! IT MIGHT SAVE YOUR LIFE!

Analysis of the Gas Pump Needle Viral Warnings

Not to worry. On June 20, 2000, mere days after the overwrought warning above first slammed inboxes across the Internet, the Jacksonville Sheriff's Department issued a press release declaring it a hoax.

"The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office has had no reports of such incidents and there is no 'Capt. Abraham Sands' at the JSO," the statement said. Nor had any such incidents been reported elsewhere in the United States. Moreover, according to the CDC, there are no documented cases of HIV being transmitted via needle-sticks in non-health care settings, ever (see statement below).

The viral warning was, and is, entirely fictitious.

It did add an interesting new wrinkle to the HIV needle-stick rumors already circulating online in various forms since 1997. Previous variants warned of tainted syringes planted in movie theater seats and pay phone coin slots, not to mention random "stealth prickings" (for lack of a better phrase) in nightclubs and other crowded public places. Now we have tainted needles on the handles of gas pumps to contend with. Where will they turn up next?

Copycat pranks

All these variants have been investigated and deemed false by authorities with the sole exception of a spate of apparent copycat pranks that occurred around the beginning of 1999 in western Virginia.

According to police there, actual hypodermic needles were found in the coin slots of public phones and bank night deposit slots in a couple of small towns in the area. None were found to be contaminated with HIV or any other biological agent. Presumably, the pranksters were imitating rumors that had already been circulating online for months.

Groundless though it may be, the conviction that unknown assailants are intentionally spreading AIDS by hiding contaminated needles in public places remains popular, especially on the email forwarding circuit. One reason is that these tales and other urban legends like them provide an outlet for unspoken fears—of strangers, of the motives of some of the more marginal members of society, of AIDS itself. They're cautionary tales, albeit ones that don't really function as such—not literally, at any rate—in that they fail to address the primary way HIV is actually transmitted: unsafe sex.

'Pump' at your own risk

Which raises an interesting point. By virtue of the fact that each of these fictitious scenarios depicts the transmission of HIV via acts of penetration, each works as a metaphor for sex. Consider the claim that one risks exposure to HIV simply by inserting one's finger into the coin slot of a public phone. The imagery isn't pretty, but it's apt.

Now we're being warned to be careful when pumping gas, to take all due precautions before sliding the nozzle into the tank. Sound advice? Metaphorically speaking, yes!

Statement from the CDC on needle-stick rumors and AIDS

This statement appeared on the CDC.gov site in 2010.

Have people been infected with HIV from being stuck by needles in non-health care settings?

No. While it is possible to get infected with HIV if you are stuck with a needle that is contaminated with HIV, there are no documented cases of transmission outside of a health-care setting.

CDC has received inquiries 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. 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 be rumors/myths.

Sources

  • CDC. HIV Transmission: Questions & Answers. Centers for Disease Control. 25 Mar. 2010.
  • Chapin, Veronica. “Calls About Email Hoax Flood Sheriff's Office.” Florida Times-Union, jacksonville.com/tu-online/stories/062200/met_3370747.html#.WeC4VGhSzmY. 
  • Jacksonville Sheriff's Office. "It's a Hoax." coj.net. 20 June 2000. www.coj.net/Departments/Sheriffs+Office/Headlines/06202000.htm.
  • McKenzie, Aline. "HIV Hoax Pumps Up the Fear of Infection." Dallas Morning News, 26 May 2001. articles.orlandosentinel.com/2001-05-26/lifestyle/0105250412_1_hypodermic-needles-pump-hoax.
  • Sun Media. "Infected Needles Tale a Hoax." London Free Press, 22 Mar. 2007. cnews.canoe.com/CNEWS/WeirdNews/2007/03/22/3806156-sun.html.
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Emery, David. "Needles Hidden Under Gas Pump Handles Are an Urban Legend." ThoughtCo, Nov. 13, 2017, thoughtco.com/hivand-needles-under-gas-pump-3299098. Emery, David. (2017, November 13). Needles Hidden Under Gas Pump Handles Are an Urban Legend. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/hivand-needles-under-gas-pump-3299098 Emery, David. "Needles Hidden Under Gas Pump Handles Are an Urban Legend." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/hivand-needles-under-gas-pump-3299098 (accessed November 24, 2017).