In a world where misinformation is rampant, it’s essential to arm yourself with accurate knowledge
When a person has a sexually transmittable disease such as HIV, they have an ethical obligation to protect their current or future partners from becoming infected. Clear communication with sexual partners is a necessity, as is taking protective measures to prevent transmission. In many jurisdictions, failing to do so is criminal behavior. This breach of trust is also fair grounds for breaking up a relationship.
Are you waffling between staying with someone who gave you an STD such as HIV or exiting the relationship? You might be wondering:
- Did my partner unknowingly infect me because they never got HIV testing?
- Did this person disclose their test results to any other potential partners?
- Did my partner follow HIV disclosure laws before initiating sexual relations with me?
If your partner was knowingly infected with HIV or another STD and did not inform you prior to engaging in sexual activity, disclosure laws make their action a criminal offense in many states in the U.S.
A Brief Introduction to HIV
The stigma of having Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), a precursor to AIDS, often causes HIV-positive individuals to hide their diagnoses because of fear or embarrassment.
The vilification of HIV-positive individuals has also led to sexually active people exhibiting the equivalent of the ostrich sticking its head into the sand, thinking that if they avoid HIV testing, what they don’t know can’t hurt them. This fuzzy thinking is dangerous.
On the contrary, whether you or your partner has an HIV-positive diagnosis, learning the truth about HIV might save a person’s life and protect their sexual partners, too.
HIV is a sexually transmitted disease that harms your immune system by damaging your cells, thus making you more susceptible to contracting severe illnesses such as Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) and cancer.
HIV symptoms include:
- Body rashes
- Sore throat
- Nausea and vomiting
- Night sweats
- Mouth ulcers
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Vaginal infections
To catch an HIV infection in its early phases, you must undergo STD testing regularly. While there is no cure for HIV, available treatments can alleviate symptoms and reduce HIV levels within the body.
Even though HIV-positive individuals remain contagious throughout their lives, they can still enjoy happy, relatively healthy, and normal lives while managing their condition.
With early detection services such as Rapid STD Testing, HIV-positive individuals and their partners are one step closer to life-preserving treatment.
Why Are HIV Disclosure Laws Important?
HIV disclosure laws protect the human right of informed consent. When sharing your body sexually with another, you deserve to know if you are putting yourself at risk of STD transmissions.
Not only do HIV disclosure laws protect your right to choose whether or not to engage in sex with an infected individual, but they also aid the United States Department of Health and Human Services’ efforts towards mitigating the spread of HIV.
By remaining informed of your risks, you might be less inclined to engage in unprotected sex and thus less likely to contract HIV. If you do choose to engage in a relationship with an HIV-positive person, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers resource information for partners of those with HIV.
Be forewarned that different U.S. states have different HIV disclosure laws with various penalties, ranging from paying fines to incarceration.
Currently, the law does not make exceptions for individuals who are unaware that they are HIV-positive. Whether you accidentally infect someone or intentionally engage in what some people consider biological terrorism, the law could prosecute you the same way.
To best avoid a court case, you should undergo frequent STD testing, especially after starting a relationship with each new partner.
Unfortunately, many cases exist of HIV-positive individuals disclosing their diagnoses and still finding themselves in court due to accusations by ex-partners. To best protect yourself, ask your partner to sign a document stating that they are aware of your diagnosis and their potential risks.
Do You Legally Have to Disclose HIV?
Did you ever learn if it's illegal to give someone an STD when studying health education in school? Many states classify failure to disclose HIV as a felony. When engaging in a sexual relationship, the law requires you to inform your partner of your HIV status.
Some states also require that you disclose your HIV status with anyone that shares your injection drug equipment or if you are donating organs, tissue, or blood. Other states have more rigorous rules regarding disclosure.
For example, Arkansas requires that you inform your dentist and physician of your HIV status before an appointment.
If you would like to learn more about your state’s particular HIV disclosure laws, the CDC provides a map with HIV reporting laws by state. We provide some examples below.
Examples of HIV Status Disclosure Laws by State
HIV disclosure laws vary by state, as do the punishments. In some states, HIV-positive individuals can face up to 20 years in prison for engaging in sexual acts without informing their partners, even if they do not know that they are HIV-positive and their partners do not contract the disease. Below, we list the legal penalties in some states as examples:
1. Alabama: Class C misdemeanor for knowingly exposing an individual to HIV
2. Alaska: Felony for exposing an individual to HIV
3. Arkansas: Class A felony for failing to disclose HIV status to sexual partner, doctor, or dentist
4. California: Felony for knowingly donating infected tissue, bodily fluids, or organs while HIV-positive; for failing to disclose HIV status with intent to infect
5. Colorado: Class 5/6 felony for engaging in prostitution while HIV-positive
6. Florida: Third-degree felony for knowingly donating infected tissue, blood, or organs without revealing HIV status or for engaging in sexual intercourse without receiving informed consent
7. Georgia: If one has HIV, a felony for sharing needles, engaging in prostitution, and donating bodily fluids, tissues, or organs; for engaging in sexual intercourse without receiving informed consent; for spitting on a police officer or using bodily fluids while assaulting a police officer with intent to infect
8. Idaho: Felony for knowingly donating infected bodily fluid, organs, or tissue if HIV-positive
9. Illinois: Class 2 felony for HIV-positive people who donate infected bodily fluid, organs, or tissue without disclosure, as well as for sharing needles or exposure through intimate contact
10. Indiana: Class C felony for knowingly donating HIV-infected blood or semen; a Class A felony if HIV transmission occurs. Class D felony for assaulting someone with HIV-positive bodily fluids or waste, with Class C felony if the victim is unaware that the bodily fluids or waste contains HIV and Class A felony if HIV transmission occurs.
Browse the CDC’s map of HIV reporting laws by state for a complete list.
HIV Disclosure Issues You Might Face if You Have HIV
When Can Non-Disclosure of HIV Status Be Criminalized?
If your partner did not inform you of their sexual health and infected you with HIV, you would be considered a victim of HIV non-disclosure. Laws are in place to protect your right to informed consent, and you could sue your partner for:
- Emotional distress
- Reckless endangerment
- Biological terrorism
- Attempted homicide
Your judge could charge the guilty party with:
- A misdemeanor, resulting in a fine
- A criminal offense, resulting in the guilty party registering as a sex offender
- A criminal offense, resulting in confinement
States enforcing the criminalization of HIV believe that the negative reinforcement of prison will promote HIV disclosure and prevention tactics.
However, the deep stigmatization of HIV has made many people reluctant to undergo STD testing.
Is It Illegal to Disclose Someone's HIV Status?
Your sexual health status is personal, and you should not have to share your private medical information with everyone in your life if you are not comfortable doing so. However, if you are seeking employment or medical care, your right to HIV privacy and confidentiality varies by state.
If you decide to share your HIV status with your co-workers, friends, or family in a casual setting, be forewarned that they may spread this information without legal consequence.
On the other hand, if you are required to share your medical information with your employer because you need work accommodations, then your employer must maintain confidentiality.
Disclosing Your HIV Status to Employers
Employers may require your medical history to assess if you are physically fit for the job or need reasonable accommodations. You will want to be truthful when filling out these documents so that you are not denied employment for falsification or inaccurate information
If your employer asks for a complete list of your medications, you must include your HIV medication. However, if your employer asks you to list all of your diagnoses, you can include your HIV diagnosis or allude that you have a diagnosis that would not impair you at work.
You and your doctor can decide if you need to disclose your HIV status or if that information would not impact your employment. For the most part, if you are otherwise physically fit, your HIV status should not affect your ability to perform your role.
After all, the risk of spreading HIV at work should be low, even if your job is at a paper company and comes with the threat of constant paper cuts. Most companies use bloodborne pathogen safety protocols such as gloves, meaning that no one would have direct contact with your bodily fluids regardless.
What Is HIPAA and What Are Its Limitations When It Comes to HIV?
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) protects a patient’s right to privacy regarding their medical history and records. It establishes boundaries on the release of medical documents and holds violators accountable, with civil and criminal charges.
HIPAA ensures that an HIV-positive patient receives the same doctor-patient confidentiality as any other patient. For example, because of HIPAA, doctors cannot leave your test results on your voice mail if you request them not to, and they cannot leave your medical chart pinned up in a room that receives a lot of traffic.
HIPAA restricts your medical data usage to only the minimum number of people who need to know it. However, HIPAA must also balance patient privacy and the protection of public health.
In all 50 states, medical providers must report all new HIV cases to local, state, and federal public health officials. Your state health department will remove your name, address, and other identifying information from the data before sharing it with the CDC.
Public health officials will then interpret the data and use it to determine if the state is approaching a preventable epidemic. Once public health officials locate the areas of high transmission, those areas will receive state and federal funding for HIV services.
Can a Doctor Legally Disclose a Patient's HIV Status Without Their Consent?
A doctor cannot legally disclose their patient’s HIV status to their employers without the patient’s knowing consent. Many state laws ensure patient-doctor confidentiality by requiring the patient’s written consent before disclosing any medical information to employers.
However, in certain states, a doctor can legally disclose a patient’s HIV status to their spouse or needle-sharing partners. Some states and cities have “duty to warn” or partner notification laws that make health care providers legally obligated to inform at-risk parties.
Partner notification laws ensure that even if the patient refuses to report the information themselves, their spouse will be aware of their condition and can protect themselves accordingly.