Health Law and Ethics
October 18, 2000

A Proposed National Policy on Health Care Workers Living With HIV/AIDS and Other Blood-Borne Pathogens

Author Affiliations

Author Affiliation: Georgetown University Law Center, Washington, DC, and The Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, Baltimore, Md.


Health Law and Ethics Section Editors: Lawrence O. Gostin, JD, the Georgetown/Johns Hopkins University Program in Law and Public Health, Washington, DC, and Baltimore, Md; Helene M. Cole, MD, Contributing Editor, JAMA.

JAMA. 2000;284(15):1965-1970. doi:10.1001/jama.284.15.1965

In 1991, scientific uncertainty about the risk of transmission of human immunodeficiency virus or hepatitis B virus (hepatitis B e antigen [HBeAg]–positive) led the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to recommend that infected health care workers (HCWs) be reviewed by an expert panel and inform patients of their serologic status before engaging in exposure-prone procedures. The data demonstrate that risks of transmission in the health care setting are exceedingly low, suggesting that the national policy should be reformed. Implementation of the current national policy at the local level poses significant human rights burdens on HCWs, but does not improve patient safety. A new national policy should focus on the management of the workplace environment and injury prevention by creating a program to prevent blood-borne pathogen transmission; by encouraging infected HCWs to promote their own health and well-being; by discontinuing expert review panels and special restrictions for exposure-prone procedures, which stigmatize HCWs; by discontinuing mandatory disclosure of a HCW's infection status in low-level risk procedures; and by imposing practice restrictions to avert significant risks to patients. Inclusion of these principles would achieve high levels of patient safety without discrimination and invasion of privacy.