Numerous media outlets in the United Kingdom and elsewhere reported earlier this year of a court case that ended with a 28 year-old man being convicted and sentenced to a little more than a year in jail after pleading guilty to giving genital herpes to his girlfriend. In levying the sentence, the judge in the case said the man was guilty of a “betrayal” of his partner and alluded to the fact that herpes is an incurable, life-long infection.
Lawsuits over sexually transmitted infections (STIs) seem to be popping up more these days, although usually in civil rather than criminal court. Far from being limited to herpes, lawsuits and arrests over HPV and HIV have also made their way onto dockets. Many sexual health experts and policy makers are left scratching their heads over such suits and fret about the public health implications: a key element in controlling HIV infection, for example, is early diagnosis and treatment.
If people are afraid that knowing their status might leave them open to a lawsuit for failure to disclose, will they then become reluctant to take a test that could save their life? Also, given that STIs are very common- especially herpes and HPV- and the fact that testing doesn’t answer all questions about an infection, in most cases it’s impossible to determine how long one may have had an STI or the exact partner from whom it was contracted.