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Saturday, 28 February 2009

US: FBI and media get it so wrong about HIV transmission risk in Obama mailed blood case

A 27 year-old HIV-positive man has been arrested for "knowingly" sending letters "containing HIV-infected blood, with the intent to kill or injure another," to Barack Obama's Illinois offices in December.

Words fail me, since, of course, there is absolutely, definitively, 100% no risk of transmission from dried blood.

According to Fox News, the Murdoch-owned US TV station that broke the 'story':

The envelope contained a series of curious items, including a letter with reddish stains and an admission ticket for Obama's election-night celebration in Chicago's Grant Park. Court documents said [the man], who takes drugs to treat a mental illness, later told FBI agents he is "very sick with HIV" and cut his fingers with a razor so he could bleed on the letter.

At least, later in the article, they do at least hint that HIV cannot be transmitted this way:

The charging documents do not address whether the letters could have actually killed or injured anyone. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HIV is spread only through sexual contact with an infected person, through sharing needles with an infected person, or through blood transfusions of infected blood.

However, that didn't stop many other papers and websites, including The Chicago Sun-Times and Britain's Daily Mail from running stories with stigmatising and racist headlines such as the Mail's "Refugee accused of mailing HIV-infected blood to Barack Obama" that not only don't mention that there was never a risk of HIV transmission to President Obama, but also highlight the man's immigrant status.

I don't know who is more at fault: the FBI for literally making a Federal case out of this, or the media reporting making a mountain out of a molehill, adding greatly to misinformation about HIV transmission, and hence to HIV-related stigma.



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