Canadian Province Announces Law Requiring People Who Might Have Exposed Emergency Workers to HIV To Undergo Blood Test
Officials in Alberta, Canada, last week announced a new law that will require people who might have exposed emergency workers to HIV or other infectious diseases to submit a blood test if ordered by a judge, the Edmonton Sun reports.
Under the law, emergency workers -- including firefighters, police officers and paramedics -- who believe they have been exposed to HIV or another infectious disease can apply to the court for a blood test (Kauth, Edmonton Sun, 9/13). In addition, Alberta's chief medical officer will be able to access the medical records of people who might have exposed an emergency worker to HIV to determine if the worker is at risk for HIV or hepatitis (Myers, Calgary Herald, 9/13).
According to the Sun, suspects in two of 12 cases of potential exposure in Edmonton, Alberta, have refused to be tested for HIV. Steve Rapanos, head of emergency medical services in Edmonton, said that 14 paramedics have had potential exposure to HIV since January (Edmonton Sun, 9/13). Prior to the new law, there was no way to compel people who might have exposed workers to HIV to undergo an HIV test or obtain access to their medical records.
The new law is a revised version of the Blood Samples Act, which was approved in 2004. Officials were concerned that the original Blood Samples Act would not survive a potential legal challenge (Calgary Herald, 9/13). The law -- which follows similar legislation in Ontario, Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia -- will go into effect Oct. 1, the Sun reports (Edmonton Sun, 9/13).
According to the Herald, the new law is being praised by some emergency workers and criticized by some civil liberties advocates. Opponents of the law say that privacy concerns outweigh the peace of mind provided to emergency workers (Calgary Herald, 9/13). Health Minister Dave Hancock said that the revised version of the law eliminates privacy concerns because a judge must determine whether the person truly is at risk of HIV or other infectious diseases. Officials said the new law will allow emergency workers to begin post-exposure prophylaxis sooner if they were exposed and will reassure them that they did not contract HIV if the person tests negative for the virus, according to the Sun.
Debra Jakubec, executive director at HIV Edmonton, said she is concerned that groups at high risk of HIV, such as injection drug users and commercial sex workers, might be targeted inadvertently by emergency workers. Edmonton Police Chief Mike Boyd said the law will make a difference in cases of potential exposure in which suspects refuse to be tested. The law also will apply to people who voluntarily help others in emergency situations, according to the Sun (Edmonton Sun, 9/13).