Health Briefs

Posted on 13 Jul 2006 at 3:06pm
By Staff and Wire Reports

California Supreme Court expands legal responsibility for HIV infection

SAN FRANCISCO The California Supreme Court ruled that people who lead high-risk sexual lives have good reason to know they may be infected with the virus that causes AIDS and are responsible for informing partners about possible exposure.

The 4-3 ruling in the case of a woman who accused her ex-husband of giving her HIV is the court’s first involving allegations of negligent HIV infection. It makes those with “constructive knowledge” people who should know by their behavior and other signs that they could be infected legally liable for infecting others.

A federal court in Michigan is the only other jurisdiction to rule similarly, in a 1993 case involving former NBA star Earvin “Magic” Johnson, who tested positive for HIV in 1991.

The emotional distress and fraud lawsuit was filed four years ago by a woman identified only as Bridget B. against a man identified as John B.

John told Bridget that he was monogamous and disease-free and insisted on having unprotected sex. Bridget tested HIV-positive in October 2000.

Pennsylvania court allows criminal prosecution for hiding HIV during sex

HARRISBURG, Pa. A man accused of concealing his HIV infection until after he had sex with his lover can be prosecuted criminally, a Pennsylvania appeals court ruled Friday. A three-judge Superior Court panel said a jury should decide whether Samuel Cordoba’s alleged actions amounted to a “gross deviation from the standard of conduct that a reasonable person would observe.”

The appeals court reversed a county judge who had thrown out the charge of reckless endangerment. Berks County Judge James M. Bucci said allowing such prosecutions could “open the floodgate to jilted lovers and angry spouses to file charges after a relationship has soured.”

Cordoba’s sex partner discovered prescription medication he suspected was used to treat an HIV infection after having oral sex with Cordoba in June 2003. Cordoba is accused of later admitting to the man that he had AIDS.

The unidentified man has since undergone regular testing and results have been negative, according to court records.

Medical marijuana dispensaries in San Diego charged with drug trafficking

SAN DIEGO Federal prosecutors accused six people of illegally trafficking pot under the cover of California’s medical marijuana laws.

At least five people were arrested during a raid July 6, authorities said. “They made thousands of dollars every day,” U.S. Attorney Carol Lam said. “Their motive was not the betterment of society. Their motive was profit.”

One federal indictment accuses John Sullivan, 38, of growing more than 100 marijuana plants for distribution from his two dispensaries. Five managers of an independent dispensary were indicted separately on similar allegations.

Also, the San Diego County district attorney has filed state charges against one of the men named in the federal indictment and nine others for selling marijuana and possessing marijuana for sale. “The party is over,” District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis said. Dumanis said she had “no intention” of preventing people who suffer chronic illnesses like AIDS, glaucoma or cancer from using medically prescribed marijuana to ease their pain. But she added that the law has been “severely abused” by neighborhood pot dealers.

Misdemeanor conviction of man who transmitted HIV ignites debate

BALTIMORE A man who engaged in unprotected sex without telling his partner he was infected with HIV has been convicted of misdemeanor second-degree assault, frustrating prosecutors who say he should have faced felony charges. Under Maryland law, people convicted of knowingly transferring or attempting to transfer HIV to another person face a sentence of up to three years and a fine of up to $2,500.

Robert Williams pleaded guilty to the assault charge on June 22. Baltimore Circuit Judge John Glynn sentenced Williams to 10 years but suspended all but the 50 days Williams had already served. He also ordered three years of supervised probation.

“In a perfect world, I would have wanted to charge him with attempted murder.” said assistant state’s attorney Videtta Brown, who prosecuted the case. But such prosecutions have been unsuccessful in Maryland in the past.

In 1996, the Maryland Court of Appeals reversed an attempted murder conviction obtained against an HIV-positive rapist, finding the evidence was insufficient to infer an intent to kill.

Williams lived for about six months with Irene Blake before she discovered he was HIV-positive. Williams admitted that he had contracted the virus that causes AIDS before they began dating and that he knew the threat to her life.

Not everyone in the legal community thinks HIV exposure should be a felony.

Jon Givner, HIV Project director at Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, said such laws send the wrong message.

“The one surefire defense to this kind of statute is, “‘I didn’t know I was HIV-positive,”‘ Givner said. “If anything, these laws give an incentive for people to not know their status.”

Researchers manipulate human embryonic stem cells into T-cells

Researchers at UCLA said they’ve discovered a way to guide human embryonic stem cells into becoming the T-cells targeted by the virus that causes AIDS.

“This could be a very important weapon in the fight against AIDS,” researcher Zoran Galic said in a statement reported in the Orange County Register.

Galic led the research team that genetically altered the stem cells until they evolved into mature T-cells.

T-cells coordinate the body’s cell-mediated immunity, which is essential against viruses, funguses and parasites along with some forms of bacteria. Cell-mediated immunity declines precipitously in people with AIDS due to the loss of T-cells, making them susceptible to a host of unusual infections and cancers.

For example, a person with AIDS is 50 to 100 times more likely to develop Hodgkin lymphoma.

The research represents the first time scientists were able to manipulate embryonic stem cells into becoming T-cells.

“These results indicate that it is possible to decipher the signals that control the development of embryonic stem cells into mature T-cells. That way, we can eventually repopulate the immune system in patients needing T-cells,” said the study’s co-author, Jerome Zack.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, July 14, 2006.

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