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HIV Status of Michigan Man Remains Unknown, State Laws May Have Been Broken

February 2, 2012

Earlier this year, news reports buzzed about a Comstock Park, Mich., man who walked into a police station and confessed to attempting to infect hundreds of people with HIV either through unprotected sex or sharing needles. Initial reports claimed he had a history of psychological problems, and was charged with multiple counts of "sex with an uninformed person" (a violation of Michigan's HIV disclosure law) and held on a $100,000 bond.

He faces up to eight years in prison.

A few weeks ago, even more controversy reared its head: The assistant corporate counsel for Kent County, Mich., stated that if the detainee was to make his bail, the county would try to force him to take antiretroviral medications as a means to stop him from transmitting the virus to someone else.

And yet, despite all of the media coverage around this story, there is one major detail that continues to get ignored: Is this man even HIV positive? And does the state have any evidence to prove that?

According to The American Independent, these answers appear to be unknown. Both the prosecutor and the man's defense lawyer are remaining silent and it appears that there are no records confirming his status.

Through interviews and Freedom of Information Act requests, TAI has thus far been unable to find any records of the suspect's HIV-positive status, neither within the Kent County Health Department, nor within the state health department. Absence of a record of the man's HIV status suggests he might not be HIV-positive, as Michigan law stipulates that laboratories and physicians report HIV-positive test results to the state health department and to the infected person's local jurisdiction immediately following a positive result. It should be noted that state confidentiality laws play a role in our ability to access certain data. But based on what the local and state health departments have told us, charges against the man appear to be based entirely on his confession to authorities last month.

Indeed, Kent County Deputy Corporate Counsel Sangeeta Ghosh told TAI that the county officials first became aware of the suspect and his alleged crime in December 2011.

When asked if the county has evidence of the suspect's HIV status, Ghosh said in an email: "[Name redacted] tested for the HIV virus outside of the Health Department. Those records are not available with the Health Department." She said the county health department was not in possession of the suspect's monitoring lab results, saying those records are "retained by his physician or lab."

Later in a phone interview, Ghosh speculated that the suspect might have tested anonymously at the Kent County Health Department, but she said the county was unable to verify that information.

According to other media reports, in 2008, a woman claimed that the accused did not disclose his HIV status to her, and transmitted the virus to her. Yet, as The American Independent points out, if this woman's claim is true, the health department may have broken some state laws for not following protocol in locating the man who she claims infected her:

In other words, following her HIV-positive test, the woman's partner-services interview would likely have identified the suspect, who would have landed in the state's name-based list of HIV-positive persons. This should have set off a chain of health-department-led interventions to bring the suspect into the county for counseling or possible civil action under the state's Health Threat to Others clause in the Public Health Act. Michigan law requires investigators to contact those identified as having been exposed to HIV within 35 days. The law also mandates strict confidentiality of those infected.

TAI has previously reported that Michigan's local health departments routinely access the state's name-based database to compare names of partners in HIV cases to the names of people already identified as living with HIV. In some instances, those persons then go on to face Health Threat to Others action by the local health department, based solely on their identification as a partner in an investigation.

TheBody.com will be monitoring this story closely and will provide updates.

Kellee Terrell is the former news editor for TheBody.com and TheBodyPRO.com.

Follow Kellee on Twitter: @kelleent.


Copyright © 2012 Remedy Health Media, LLC. All rights reserved.



  
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This article was provided by TheBody.com.
 
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