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HIV Testing in Criminal Cases For Causation

May 29, 2000

Hello. I am a Public Defender in a State which has recently passed a law making it a criminal offense to expose another to the HIV virus without conveying that information to the other person. The law carries up to 30 years in prison for the exposure and lack of admission. I was appointed to represent a 19-year-old woman charged under this statute who allegedly exposed her husband and a boyfriend to the virus. The husband has since tested positive, the boyfriend negative. My question is whether a test exists which can detect whether the HIV virus in each is "related" (for lack of a better term). The husband used drugs intravenously before the couple met and one woman he used methamphetamine with has been diagnosed with AIDS. Although technically the statute prohibits mere exposure without knowledge, any evidence that the husband already had the virus would be helpful in the defense. Thanks for your time.

Response from Dr. Holodniy

There is no FDA approved test to "type" viruses. However, there are DNA fingerprinting techniques that can be used to show sequence homology (relatedness) between viral strains. This is usually done by analyzing the HIV envelop or polymerase genes and can be done in many academic HIV research centers. Relatedness can be tricky to analyze. The closer the time to transmission that samples are analyzed, the better the chance in determining relatedness. HIV evolves within a person over time, so the degree of relatedness may go down. Likewise, treatment for HIV will not only decrease viral levels but change the strains present in the blood.


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