February 1, 2013
A University of Michigan study reports that public health officials in 14 Michigan jurisdictions are using information from the HIV surveillance names reporting database to find and prosecute HIV- or STD-infected people who are legally considered a "health threat." In addition to asking a newly diagnosed client for the name of the client's sexual partner(s), the public health officials are inquiring whether the sexual partner disclosed HIV status before having sex.
It is a felony or misdemeanor in 24 states for an HIV-infected person to have sex without first disclosing HIV status to a partner. In Michigan, failure to disclose HIV status prior to having sex is a felony punishable by up to four years in prison, even if the sexual partner was never at risk for HIV. People who oppose the use of data from the names reporting database for legal action urge transparency in the use of epidemiological data and recommend public health officials use the confidential medical information only for treatment referral and partner counseling.
Trevor Hoppe, author of the study, stated he also found inconsistency across the state in health officials' definition of "health threat." Some officials described HIV-infected women who became pregnant or infected with another STD as health threats.
The full report, "Controlling Sex in the Name of 'Public Health': Social Control and Michigan HIV Law," was published online in the journal Social Problems (2013; doi:10.1525/sp.2013.11178).