Mississippi is one of many states in the country with laws that criminalize HIV. Mississippi has the 9th highest HIV diagnosis rate in the United States, and the city of Jackson has the 4th highest rate of new HIV infections in the country.
Criminalizing HIV perpetuates stigma and fear. No other disease elicits the negative response from people like HIV and AIDS. Most laws that make it a crime to expose or transmit HIV to another person are rooted in inaccurate science.
Contrary to popular belief HIV cannot be transmitted through salvia, urine and feces. However, a Mississippi statute enhances its penalty for up to 10 years in prison for exposure to bodily fluids if a person has HIV.
It is imperative to modernize and update Mississippi’s infectious disease statute to alleviate fears and prevent people from being prosecuted based on inaccurate science. Furthermore, the harm to Mississippi’s public health is great if people fear getting tested for HIV because of stigma, discrimination, and imprisonment.
Linda Dixon Rigsby is the Health Law Division Director for the Mississippi Center for Justice.