State laws that criminalize not disclosing one’s HIV-positive status prior to sex or needle sharing do not lower rates of HIV, Reuters Health reports.

Publishing their findings in the journal AIDS, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) researchers analyzed 2001 to 2010 HIV diagnosis data on 33 states from the National HIV Surveillance System. They also examined AIDS diagnosis rates in the same database, looking at data from all 50 states and covering 1994 to 2010.

The researchers examined whether various factors were associated with differences in HIV or AIDS diagnoses over time, including state HIV criminal exposure laws, as well ass state-level income, unemployment, poverty, education, race and ethnicity, and the proportion of state residents living in urban areas.

After adjusting the data for various factors, the investigators found that criminal exposure laws were not associated with changes in HIV or AIDS diagnosis rates. Instead, they found that a higher proportion of adults in a state with less than a high school education and the percentage of the state population living in urban areas each were significantly associated with higher rates of HIV and AIDS diagnoses over time.

The study authors note that few state HIV criminalization laws actually take into account whether an HIV-positive individual took steps to lower the risk of transmission before engaging in an act that might expose another to the virus, such as wearing a condom or being on antiretrovirals (ARVs) and having an undetectable viral load.

People with HIV who have an undetectable viral load have an extremely low risk of transmitting the virus; the risk may in fact be zero.

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To read the study abstract, click here.