Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Courtroom Caution for HIV Infection Charges

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The criminal justice system should exercise caution in prosecuting for the transmission of HIV by considering the rapidly evolving science of the virus, according to a consensus statement published in the Medical Journal of Australia.

There have been at least 38 Australian criminal prosecutions for sexual transmission or exposure to HIV since the first known case in 1991. Such cases require courts, legal practitioners and juries to interpret detailed scientific evidence concerning the risk of HIV transmission and the medical impact of an HIV diagnosis. According to the authors, the risks and impacts of HIV infection may have been overstated in some cases.

Current evidence demonstrates that, unlike the risk of transmission through HIV-infected blood, which rises to almost 100% through blood transfusion, the risk of transmission through sexual encounters between partners of different serostatus can be low, negligible or too low to quantify. This can depend on the nature of the sexual act, the viral load of the partner with HIV, and whether a condom or pre-exposure prophylaxis is used to reduce the risk.

Additionally, the advancements of HIV antiretroviral drug regimens over the past two decades have made treatment more simple, tolerable and effective. This improved treatment for people infected with HIV has meant that their life expectancy is comparable...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.