To the editor:
In an era when we are seeing great strides in many areas regarding HIV, this poor excuse for a proposed bill (”Tougher HIV test rules sought,” Dec. 9) is as outdated and discriminatory as it sounds. This bill would require people to be tested without consent if anyone -- including a first responder -- reports having come into contact with any bodily fluids. There has never been a documented case of a first responder contracting HIV after exposure at an emergency scene. Universal precautions work. The risk of getting HIV from a needlestick injury is less than 1%. The risk of exposure from direct skin contact with the fluid is less than 0.1%. The risk of infection from a human bite is between 0.1% and 1%. First responders should continue to follow standard precautions to reduce workplace exposure to bloodborne pathogens.
Many states are taking steps to overturn archaic bills of this nature on the basis that they have been proven to be ineffective, stigmatizing and discriminatory. Requiring involuntary testing violates the legal and ethical principle of informed consent.
Testing is available to anyone who wants to get it. If someone, including a first responder, feels they may have been exposed to HIV, they can get tested immediately. It isn’t necessary to know the status of the person in which they’ve come into contact prior to them being tested. Knowledge of the source person’s HIV test result may be a double-edged sword with respect to the anxiety felt by the exposed person as they wait for their own test results following an exposure. Additionally, this is 2019, not 1989. For HIV-positive people who are on antiretroviral drugs, undectable=untransmittable, which means that if a person with HIV is on antiretroviral medications and are adherent, they cannot transmit HIV to someone else.
Testing must remain a choice for everyone. Providing emergency responders and health care workers with a procedure to test a source person for HIV does not ensure that the source person’s status can be definitively determined during the time in which this information is crucial for making a decision regarding post-exposure prophylaxis.
Onestop Harm Reduction Program, a program of the North Shore Health Project, offers free and confidential HIV, HCV and STD testing, syringe access and exchange and Narcan training and distribution at its 9 Center St., Gloucester location. These programs are funded by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. Staff are more than willing to help educate anyone looking for more information; please call 978-865-3924 to set up a meeting.
Please contact your Massachusetts state senator and representative and implore them not to support this bill. There will be public hearings regarding this bill; please contact the North Shore Health Project at email@example.com for more information.
Susan Gould Coviello
Executive Director, North Shore Health Project and Onestop Harm Reduction Program