Washington Courts Require Man to Seek Medical Treatment in Order to Stop HIV Transmission

Associate Editor

When it comes to HIV and the U.S. criminal justice system, people usually think about exposure or disclosure laws. However, public health officials in King County -- the county that houses Seattle -- have brought an HIV-positive man to court in order to get him to take his medications, according to the Seattle Times. This comes after the man, identified only as "AO," was accused of infecting eight partners in the past four years after consensual condomless sex.

"We're not trying to criminalize sexual behavior here," said Matthew Golden, M.D., director of public health for Seattle and King County's HIV/STD control program, in an interview with the Seattle Times. "We are trying to protect the public's health. And we're trying to make sure that everyone gets the care they need, including the person involved in this."

King County Superior Court Judge Julie Spector issued a cease and desist order on Sept. 4 that requires AO to attend counseling and all treatment appointments made by public health officials. If he doesn't follow the order's requirements, he could face escalating fines or jail time. Judge Spector issued her order after AO had ignored orders from public health officials in July and August asking him to attend counseling and seek HIV treatment.

Successful HIV treatment not only helps people living with HIV live longer and stay healthy, it also has immense public health benefits. As put forward by the "Swiss Statement" in 2008 and as recently seen in the PARTNER study, those who are on treatment and whose viral load is undetectable have virtually no risk of transmitting HIV.

AO tested positive in June 2008. Eight people who were diagnosed between 2010 and June 2014 have stepped forward and named him as a partner with whom they had condomless sex. The story did not discuss if any form of phylogenetic testing had been ordered to find out whether the eight people's HIV strains were linked with AO's strain, and he has not been charged with any crime for allegedly exposing them to HIV.

Golden has definitively said that this is not a case of HIV criminalization. "We have business we need to get done: protect the public's health," he told the Seattle Times. "But we are not looking to criminalize people, not looking to routinely put people in jail."

Under the terms of the cease and desist order, AO is required to seek treatment, but is not required to adhere to any medications. Golden said, "He can go to the doctor and not take the pills."

Mathew Rodriguez is the community editor for TheBody.com and TheBodyPRO.com.

Follow Mathew on Twitter: @mathewrodriguez.