A man who has the hepatitis C virus was sentenced to 18 months in prison this month for spitting at Cleveland police and medics. Do laws on disease exposure do any good or do they just stigmatize ill people?
An Ohio man who has the hepatitis C virus was sentenced to 18 months in prison this month for spitting at Cleveland police and medics. In Ohio, it’s a felony for people who know they have HIV, viral hepatitis or tuberculosis to expose another person intentionally to their blood, semen, urine, feces or other bodily substances such as saliva with the intent to harass or threaten the person, Kaiser Health News reports. Advocates for people with diseases like hepatitis C and HIV say these laws add to the stigma patients already face. Studies suggest the laws are not effective at stopping the spread of disease. “This [Ohio] person is now facing a year and a half of incarceration for something that didn’t harm anyone and didn’t pose a risk of harm to anyone,” says Kate Boulton of the Center for HIV Law and Policy.
Roughly two-thirds of states have laws that make it a crime knowingly to expose others to HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Many laws were passed in the 1980s and 1990s when fear about HIV were high and contracting the disease was considered a death sentence. In recent years, about a dozen states have added hepatitis C to the list of medical conditions for which people can face criminal prosecution if they knowingly expose others by engaging in activities like sex without disclosure, needle-sharing or organ donation. Public health officials say these provisions are likely to be ineffective at stemming transmission of the disease. They may exacerbate the problem. If you have to let people know that you are infected with HIV or hepatitis C before you have sex with them, why would anyone in their right mind get themselves tested and begin treatment?” says epidemiologist Anne Spaulding of Emory University’s public health school.