Take the lead and follow them
By Andrea Arscott, Senior Columnist
A woman is wheeled into the emergency’s trauma room on a stretcher. Although she’s conscious, she’s been in a car accident and is bleeding from several injuries. She whispers to one of the paramedics that she’s HIV-positive. The paramedic then turns to everyone in the room and states, “She’s positive for HIV.” Members of the team who aren’t already wearing gloves reach for some immediately.
A little boy is playing in the playground at school, when he falls from the monkey bars. He cuts his finger when he hits the ground. One of the teachers runs to his aid, reaches for a tissue in her pocket, and stops the bleeding. He says, “My mommy said that if I bleed, I need to tell you that I have HIV.” The teacher freaks out and rushes to wash her hands.
A boxer sparring with another man in the ring at the gym bites his own lip. Blood drips onto the floor. The coach sits him on a stool in the corner of the ring and covers the cut with a small bandage. The other boxer shouts to the coach, “You should wear gloves when you handle blood coach.” He responds, “What, it’s not like he has HIV or anything.” The injured boxer says, “Actually I do.”
What do these scenarios have in common? The first responders in these types of situations should have followed universal precautions regardless of whether or not it’s known if the person being treated has HIV or any other blood borne illnesses, like hepatitis C. Responders should always assume that all of their patients could have HIV or hep C and automatically use gloves. This way, people living with HIV don’t feel obligated to disclose their status to someone because they didn’t take responsibility and protect themselves.
When an ambulance is called, paramedics and doctors need to know their patients’ status in order to treat them effectively, make proper diagnoses, and prescribe appropriate medications. However, in other situations, people don’t need to disclose that they’re HIV-positive. They have the right to privacy and confidentiality. Teachers, gym coaches, outreach workers, nurses, and others should always wear gloves when giving first aid.
Now, when it comes to sex, if your partner tells you they’re HIV-positive and their viral load is “undetectable,” that doesn’t mean that HIV is no longer in their body. Remember, there’s no cure for HIV. Having an undetectable viral load means the amount of the virus in their system is minimal, and therefore, the risk of transmitting HIV to someone else is extremely low.
So having said that, the one instance when people living with HIV have to disclose their status is when they intend on having unprotected sex with their partners and their viral load is not undetectable. If they don’t disclose their HIV status under these circumstances, they can be charged with aggravated sexual assault. It’s the law. However, if a person who is HIV-positive has a viral load that is undetectable and they usea condom, that person doesn’t have a legal duty to divulge their status to partners. If you’re not clear, check out aidslaw.ca.
When it comes down to the courts though, it becomes a “he said, she said” battle. So, if you are HIV-positive, it may be in your best interest to tell your partners and document it somehow by involving a witness, getting a note signed by partners, or having them accompany you to the doctor. Down the road, you may need proof that you disclosed your HIV status to your sexual partners.
As it stands, AIDS Service Organizations (ASOs) and others are trying to change the disclosure law, as some people believe that you shouldn’t have to disclose your HIV status at all if you practice safe sex.
Stop HIV and hep C now. Know your status and wear a condom.
Come down to the Purpose Society testing clinic at 40 Begbie Street in New West the first and third Friday of the month from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. for anonymous and rapid HIV testing and STI and HCV testing. We also provide vaccines, free harm reduction supplies, and condoms! You can also get your questions answered by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org