Ohio: Firefighter With AIDS Pushes for Workers Comp Law
October 14, 2002
An Akron, Ohio, firefighter who says he contracted AIDS on the job is promoting a law that would automatically grant workers' compensation benefits to firefighters who contract any of several diseases. Stephen Derrig, 35, learned he had AIDS in March 2000 when trying to figure out why he was breathless and without energy. Knowing he didn't fit any known risk factors, Derrig said he was certain the disease came from his work as a paramedic.
Although he filed for workers' compensation almost immediately after learning his status, the case was not resolved until July, when the city -- following up on its pledge to re-evaluate its aggressive stance on appealing awards to employees -- dropped a court challenge it had filed. City officials, citing confidentiality, declined to comment on the reason for initially challenging Derrig's award.
The 14 pills a day Derrig needs to suppress the virus cost $1,500 a month and are now covered by workers' compensation, along with medical bills related to his AIDS treatment.
Derrig is trying to help pass legislation that would cover firefighters who get certain types of cancers, hepatitis C, HIV and AIDS. Studies show firefighters contract these diseases at a higher rate than average. Nationwide, the International Association of Fire Fighters is pushing for similar legislation. The union says the law would ease the difficulty firefighters face when they find out they have one of the diseases listed but cannot trace its origin to a single call. The union also wants fire departments to provide confidential, voluntary testing for HIV and appropriate counseling when needed.
Derrig doesn't know when or how he was exposed, but he came into contact with the bodily fluids of people he was called to help several times since joining the department in 1992. An earlier HIV test would have prevented Derring's condition from progressing from HIV to AIDS. Although doctors say he may have been infected with HIV several years before he tested positive, neither his wife nor children have contracted the virus.
This article was provided by U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update. Visit the CDC's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.