Schaefer favors AIDS disclosure from physicians

December 22, 1990|By Doug Birch | Doug Birch,Annapolis Bureau of The Sun

ANNAPOLIS -- Gov. William Donald Schaefer said yesterday that a close friend was now "scared to death" because her doctor died of AIDS, and he thinks physicians should tell their patients if they have the disease.

"My own opinion [is] that if a doctor has AIDS, is known to have AIDS, his patients should know it," the governor told reporters. But he did not say whether he would seek a new law or regulation to require disclosure.

The governor said he became "hepped up" on the subject because a "very close friend of mine" was a patient of Dr. Rudolph Almaraz, a Johns Hopkins Hospital surgeon who specialized in treating breast cancer. Dr. Almaraz died of acquired immune deficiency syndrome Nov. 16.

That middle-aged woman is now "scared to death," the governor said.

"I read the newspapers to try to find out what AIDS is all about," he said. "One day you can get it by breathing on a person; the next day you can get it by dental error; the next day you can get it by blood spurting."

He added, "I'm not sure I fully believe what I read in the papers" about how the disease is transmitted.

Governor Schaefer said he had asked Adele A. Wilzack, secretary of health and mental hygiene, to advise him about the rules governing physician conduct in such cases. But he conceded that the issue was complex.

A spokesman for the Hopkins hospital and AIDS activists noted that various medical organizations were now discussing what steps a physician with AIDS should take.

"This is an issue for the medical profession to deal with," said Susan Kromholz, deputy director of the Health Education Resources Organization in Baltimore, which provides services to AIDS patients. "It's an issue that's been blown way out of proportion."

The federal Centers for Disease Control has reports of 40 surgeons, 588 non-surgical doctors, 144 dental workers and 1,063 nurses who have been diagnosed with AIDS.

The CDC says it does not know how many are still practicing medicine. But it has evidence to suspect that a patient was infected in only one such case: that of a Florida dentist.

Ms. Kromholz noted that medical experts for years had held a consistent view that AIDS could be transmitted only in a limited number of ways, including contaminated needles or other blood-to-blood contact; through sex; from mother to child during pregnancy; and through breast milk.

Wendy W. Schiller, a lawyer and social worker with HERO, said the only effective way to enforce a disclosure rule would be to force doctors to be tested -- since those with AIDS would not be likely to admit it and destroy their careers.

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