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Indianapolis Star Examines HIV Confidentiality, Disclosure Laws

July 18, 2003

While it is a felony in Indiana for an HIV-positive person to engage in high-risk behavior that deliberately exposes another person to the virus, whether such actions are first discovered by the police or by the health department determines whether the public is notified of the person's behavior, the Indianapolis Star reports in an examination of the state's HIV confidentiality laws. Under the state's laws, if the health department determines that an HIV-positive person may be putting others at risk for infection, the department can notify people who may be endangered but must keep all other information confidential, even to police and prosecutors, according to department spokesperson Jennifer Dunlap. Health officials have sent out 25 notices since 2001 to HIV-positive people who were suspected of exposing other people to the virus. The health department can file a civil suit in court to put restrictions on HIV-positive individuals only as a last resort, and such cases must remain confidential. Since March 2001, the health department has referred five cases to the courts, according to the Star. Nationwide, since the late 1990s states have been implementing tougher laws against deliberately exposing a person to HIV infection. "The goal is to reach these individuals with support," Julie Scofield, executive director of the National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS Directors, said. Without such privacy protections, people at risk for HIV might be less likely to get tested for fear that they would be ostracized if they test HIV-positive. In addition, they might be less likely to reveal their partners, according to Scofield and others. However, if the police are the first to learn that a person might be exposing other people to HIV, they can file public criminal charges, making any information regarding the HIV-positive person public knowledge (Kightlinger, Indianapolis Star, 7/17).

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