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The Changing World of HIV/AIDS Transmission Laws


HIV/AIDS advocates have long been fighting for changes to the more than 30 state laws nationwide, but they've often met resistance.

Many states passed HIV criminal transmission laws after Congress approved the federal Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency (CARE) Act in 1990. A provision of that law, which funds essential medical and support services to people with HIV, required every state to certify that its criminal laws were sufficient to prosecute any HIV-infected individual who knowingly exposed another person to the disease – even if they didn't transmit it -- at the height of the epidemic.

But with more understanding of HIV and improved drugs and care management options, the disease is no longer the death sentence it once was. And often, there is less risk of exposure. An HIV-positive person with undetectable levels of the virus in their blood -- common these days thanks to treatment that was in its early stages of use and was unproven when Iowa's law was passed -- isn't likely to transmit it to anyone else. Criminal exposure statutes should be changed to take the modern realities of living with HIV into account, advocates say.

The federal government has agreed: The U.S. government's Office of National AIDS Policy said studies show that intentional transmission is "atypical and uncommon" and has called on states to re-consider their statutes. The Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS, has weighed in, too, issuing a resolution in 2013 calling for an end to the HIV-specific statutes.

Most of the state laws were passed before studies showed that antiretroviral therapy reduces the risk of HIV transmission, according to a recent article by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Justice Department.

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