Doctors with AIDS

April 26, 1991

What makes AIDS such a dreaded disease is that it is both contagious and deadly. One way to prevent its spread is to limit disease-passing contacts. But there are cases when this is difficult. Consider when health care workers meet patients.

The problem facing medical people from tainted blood is appreciated, but what about the other side of the coin? Does the doctor have an obligation to let patients know if he is infected? This question rose again recently when it was learned that a Washington doctor had died of AIDS in 1989, that the hospital knew he had the disease and that none of his patients ever were notified. In a similar case in Baltimore, patients were notified, even though not all hospital people connected agreed with that call. "On the scale of risks, this is so small that to concentrate on it is based on an exaggeration of the perceived risk," said one.

The issue is as much moral as it is medical. Whatever decision is reached must have nationwide effect, rather than leaving patients in the dark as to which hospitals or doctors follow which policy. At the very least, a framework for that guidance should be forthcoming when the Centers for Disease Control gives its opinion on the issue soon.

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