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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About HIV and AIDS (FAQ Home)

HIV & AIDS Legal Issues

Are people with AIDS considered handicapped? Return to top

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law on July 26, 1990. The ADA extends federal protection against discrimination for persons with disabilities in the private workplace and in places of public accommodation. The Act considers any form of HIV disease to be a disability covered under the law.

For more information, you may find it helpful to contact:

  • ADA Education Project
    c/o ACLU AIDS Project
    132 W. 43rd Street
    New York, New York 10036

  • Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
    National Office
    1801 L. Street NW
    Washington, DC 20507

  • President's Commission on Employment of
    People with Disabilities
    1331 F. Street NW
    Washington, DC 20004-1107
    (202) 376-6200

What are CDC's recommendations regarding HIV positive health care workers? Return to top

Medical and public health experts agree that the chance of an HIV-infected health care worker spreading the virus to patients is remote. Direct evidence that the risk of transmission of HIV from an infected health care worker is small comes from retrospective investigations of patients of HIV-infected health care workers. Excluding the Florida dental practice and a French surgeon, as of February 18, 1997, CDC was aware of investigations in which HIV test results were known for approximately 22,759 patients treated by 53 HIV-infected health care workers, including 29 dentists and dental students, eight physicians and medical students, 15 surgeons or obstetricians, and one podiatrist. Of the 113 HIV-infected patients identified, follow-up investigations have been completed for 110. No additional cases of HIV transmission from health care workers to patients have been documented, although due to the inherent limitations of surveillance data, it is possible that unrecognized cases may have occurred.

Because of concerns, CDC has developed recommendations for the prevention of HIV transmission in health-care settings. These recommendations, referred to as "universal precautions," were distributed to thousands of health-care institutions.

CDC has also issued specific recommendations for HIV-infected health care workers who perform invasive procedures. CDC has stated that exposure-prone invasive procedures are best determined on a case-by-case basis by local review panels, taking into consideration the specific procedure as well as the skill, technique, and possible impairment of the infected health care worker.

Currently available data provide no basis for recommendations to restrict the practice of HIV-infected health care workers who perform invasive procedures not identified as exposure-prone, provided the infected health care workers practice recommended surgical or dental technique and comply with universal precautions and current recommendations for sterilization/disinfection. Mandatory testing of health care workers for HIV antibody is not recommended.

What are the laws regarding immigration and HIV/AIDS? Return to top

The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) requires HIV antibody testing as part of the medical examination required for all non-immigrants over the age of 15 years who apply for visas. Non-immigrants applying for permanent residence who test HIV-positive are considered "excludable and deportable."

Although travelers applying for a non-immigrant visa (temporary stay) are not required to take a medical exam, HIV antibody testing may be required at the port of entry if there is reason to believe an individual is infected (e.g., the presence of medication such as zidovudine [AZT]). Non-immigrants infected with HIV who wish to visit the United States may apply for a 30-day waiver to see relatives, conduct business, attend conferences, or seek medical treatment.

For additional information about HIV/AIDS and immigration, you may wish to contact:

  • National Immigration Project
    National Association of People With AIDS
    1413 K Street, NW, 7th Floor
    Washington, DC 20005-3476
    (202) 898-0414
The Department of Health and Human Services issued a proposed rule on January 23, 1991, removing AIDS from the list of diseases for which non-immigrants infected may be excluded from the United States. The new list took effect on June 1, 1991. Elimination of sexually transmitted diseases was proposed because they are not transmitted by casual contact, through the air, or from food or water, nor will an infected person in a common or public setting place another person inadvertently at risk.

If you have any further questions about this procedure, please write to:

  • Immigration and Naturalization Service
    425 I Street Northwest
    Washington, DC 20536
    (202) 514-4316

What are the laws regarding knowingly infecting someone with HIV? Return to top

In some states, persons who are aware of their infection but who knowingly put their sex partners at risk or intentionally attempt to infect someone are subject to criminal penalties.

For more information regarding the laws in your state, you may wish to contact your state health department.

What are the laws regarding privacy for persons with HIV? Return to top

Virtually every state has passed laws dealing directly with HIV or AIDS. These states have enacted statutes, regulations, or policies which protect HIV-related information either directly or indirectly. Laws regarding obtaining HIV/AIDS information, how it is protected, and under what circumstances confidential medical information is releasable varies among states.

For more information regarding the laws in your state, you may wish to contact your state health department.

What are the laws regarding testing of prisoners? Return to top

Laws regarding HIV antibody testing of inmates vary from State to State. Some State correctional facilities conduct mandatory testing of all inmates; others may test a voluntary sample or a select group of inmates, such as known IV-drug users or those arrested for prostitution-related offenses. In some jurisdictions, inmates are tested only when medically necessary.

To learn about the laws governing HIV antibody testing in your State correctional facilities, you may wish to contact:

  • National Criminal Justice Reference Service
    P.O. Box 6000
    Rockville, Maryland 20849-6000

Why aren't people with HIV given identification cards so that others might know they are infected? Return to top

Use of such a card is not reasonable on several grounds.

It would require that the whole U.S. population be tested, which is unnecessary, unmanageable, and costly.

Individuals infected with HIV usually develop antibodies against the virus within 6 to 12 weeks of the infection. However, until seroconversion (when a detectable amount of HIV antibodies is present), infected individuals will test negative for HIV antibodies although they are infectious. In some cases, issuing people identification cards could create a false sense of security.

Another disadvantage is that some individuals may acquire the cards illegally, which may render the process invalid. The use of cards would also most likely cause those at highest risk of HIV transmission (such as intravenous drug users) to avoid seeking counseling and early diagnosis for fear of being identified as positive or even at risk.

A constructive solution to AIDS and the transmission of HIV is a continued commitment to education, behavior change, and public health action by all of us.

Why aren't people with HIV quaratined? Return to top

Because there is no scientific evidence that HIV is spread through casual contact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not believe that quarantine is indicated for people who have AIDS or are infected with HIV. Not only would a large-scale quarantine be ineffective, it would jeopardize the constitutional rights of individuals.

However, there may be cases in which a State needs to restrict personal liberties when an HIV-infected individual refuses to change behavior to protect others. In these cases, it is important to determine that the individual: 1) is HIV-infected, 2) is putting others at risk, and 3) has refused to prevent transmission. It is also important that sanctions are the least restrictive possible. Restrictions should be accompanied by intensive counseling and other measures designed to change behavior.