- (Photo: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)
Laws in 34 states unfairly punish HIV and AIDS patients, according to several advocacy groups that are working with lawmakers to change regulations that have resulted in charges of attempted murder and bioterrorism for HIV/AIDS patients caught spitting.
Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee is fighting to reverse laws that put an HIV-infected Texas man in jail for 35 years for spitting at a police officer and an HIV-positive Michigan man in jail for biting his neighbor – an act the judge called "bioterrorism."
"These laws are archaic," Lee told The Associated Press. "They're criminalizing a population of people who should not be criminalized."
At the core of the issue is the evolution of AIDS in America. Little was known about the disease when it first began to gain notoriety in the 70s and 80s, and so legislation attempting to regulate and prevent its spread was crafted by heavy hands.
The saliva of an HIV/AIDS positive person is equivalent to face-incinerating acid in the eyes of the law in some states, critics assess, but much has been learned about the disease since the regulations were first enacted.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), HIV cannot be spread by saliva, tears or sweat, and "there is no documented case of HIV being transmitted by spitting."
Although extremely rare, the CDC says HIV can be transmitted via biting, but certain conditions must be met.
"Each of the very small number of [biting] cases has included severe trauma with extensive tissue damage and the presence of blood. There is no risk of transmission if the skin is not broken," a CDC report found.
Experts say people more recently infected with HIV/AIDS have a higher quality of life than those who contracted the disease several decades ago due to the advent and increased availability of medication.
The Obama administration issued a National AIDS Strategy in 2010, which advised states to review existing practices and laws regarding how HIV/AIDS patients are treated.
"It may be appropriate for legislators to reconsider whether existing laws continue to further the public interest," the proclamation said. "In many instances, the continued existence and enforcement of these types of laws run counter to scientific evidence."
The strategy also warned that current legislation might add to the stigma that HIV/AIDS sufferers and advocacy groups say prohibits substantial progress to be made in curing the disease.
Lee introduced her bill in September and is pessimistic that it will pass through the Republican-led House. She told the AP that even if the bill fails, it might provide necessary attention to "outdated" laws.
About 40,000 new cases of HIV/AIDS are diagnosed every year in the U.S., according to the CDC, with about 1.2 million Americans currently living with the disease.