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Against the privacy of AIDS

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Against the privacy of AIDS

Last October, the case of Nushawn Williams hit the front pages. He is believed to have infected at least 13 girls and women in Jamestown, New York, with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. His name and face appeared all over the media, shredding the accepted norm of keeping HIV status confidential. In breaking this tradition, public health officials sought to identify and reach the young women he may have infected. Due to this breaking of the silence and reporting the name of the person with this infectious disease at least some women had a greater chance of living because they found out about the virus at an early state. Individuals who are identified by name on disease reports can be contacted by health departments for treatment. Fear of being identified on disease reports could deter people from seeking medical care or disease testing, therefore harming the individual by causing delays in care and threatening public health because such delays could results in further spread of disease. Name reporting of persons with infectious diseases has the potential to benefit both individual and public health.

Name reporting of persons with infectious disease can benefit the individual person. It could enable health officials to find and counsel people who test positive, but do not return for their results or who are tested in venues that do not provide extensive educational opportunities. Such contacts could also lead to medical referrals and earlier viral loads and CD4 testing, resulting in more timely treatment and reductions in viral loads that could not only improve the individual health but, at least, theoretically, also improve the public health by reducing the infectiousness of individuals. Furthermore, there have been recent studies on new therapies that can keep HIV-positive people healthy for years. These therapies are a combination of drugs that effectively reduce the amount of HIV in the blood. People have the greatest chances of success with these therapies if they begin treatment early on, and they can't be treated if they don't know that they are infected and their names are not found somewhere so that they could be at least consulted. To insure that the information recorded about an individual is not used to ...

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