Current laws on HIV transmission are at the state legislature, and lawmakers and the Community HIV and Hepatitis Advocates of Iowa Network are working to get them changed or repealed.
HIV transmission currently falls under two laws: the communicable diseases law and its own unique law.
“In a nutshell, what it states is that a person with HIV does not have to tell anybody but a sexual partner," said Tresa Brown, case manager for Mid-Iowa Community Action. "If you were to sleep with somebody, and they say you did not tell them you are HIV positive, they go to the police, it’s a felony. It is up to 25 years in person per sexual encounter. The HIV virus does not have to be transmitted. You are also a registered sex offender for the rest of your life.”
Iowa has one of the harshest laws in the country for HIV transmission. Brown said things are looking good for those who want the law changed.
“They do have legislatures behind the bill to get it changed," said Brown. "The person in charge of the Iowa Department of Public Health is behind getting it changed as well.”
According to the Community HIV/Hepatitis Advocates of Iowa Network, “Iowa’s HIV criminalization statute is outdated. Originally intended to reduce the spread of HIV, the statute actually hinders modern HIV prevention efforts in the state, including HIV testing.”
Iowa is considered low risk for HIV, but there are a number of new cases every year.
“There are 150 new cases every year in the state of Iowa," Brown said. "Across the United States, there are approximately 50,000 new cases every year. So I could make the comparison that the city of Ames is diagnosed every year.”
Cases of HIV are seen on the ISU campus as well.
“Our area is considered fairly low risk by Iowa Department of Public Health," said Dr. Scott Meyer, M.D. at Thielen Student Health Center. "We see four to six cases per year; not all are newly diagnosed. Some come with having a history of infection for several years.”
Students may not realize how easy it is to put themselves at risk for HIV or other infections.
“Anybody who has more than one sexual partner, and that person has had more than one sexual partner, is at risk,” Brown said. “You are not putting yourself at risk for just HIV. I have clients with HIV, syphilis, hepatitis and herpes. There are tons of things somebody can get.”
HIV can sit dormant for three to six months and is transmitted through blood, semen, vaginal secretions and breast milk. Brown advises people to continue to get tested if they believe they are at risk.
Meyer said the “best prevention: condoms, condoms, condoms,” if you are sexually active.