“In most cases, sharing your HIV status is a personal choice,” Aids.gov informs its readers, “but it may also be a legal requirement.” Actor Charlie Sheen’s reveal that he has HIV shines a new spotlight on the virus — and especially on disclosure. (Sheen famously has had multiple sexual partners.) Information is the most valuable tool in fighting any disease, as diagnosis is a precursor to treatment. So that personal choice is actually a moral imperative for a conscientious HIV carrier. But it’s often difficult. Recognizing the personal liabilities inherent in disclosure, local health departments will even do the job of informing those at risk, if the carrier is unable to face delivering the news. And they are required to do so without revealing the carriers name, according to Aids.gov.
It’s not always merely a personal choice to disclose potential HIV exposure. In many states, failure to disclose HIV is a criminal offense — often a felony that could bring prison time. The Center for HIV Law and Policy explains that one of the problems with disclosure is “Disclosing one’s HIV status is still widely perceived as socially dangerous. Similarly, another great risk people living with HIV face is the inadvertent or improper disclosure of their status, which can result in denial of employment, violence, and many other collateral consequences.” According to one paper on state laws that criminalize potential HIV exposure, 24 states have laws that require disclosure to sexual partners (only 14 require disclosure to needle-sharing partners), with nearly two-thirds of states having at least one law that criminalizes potential HIV exposure. Many of the laws remain on the books despite being made obsolete by a new understanding of how HIV is transmitted.