Why a Fed Anti-HIV Plan Is Ruffling Feathers

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The effort to combat HIV ran right into privacy concerns Thursday, and gay advocacy groups aren't happy with the results. Looking to better track the spread of the virus that causes AIDS, the Centers for Disease Control ordered states to require that all HIV patients register their names for entry into a national network of databases. That has gay rights groups more than a little alarmed. The problem, the groups say, is that infected people could be less likely to seek treatment if they know they have to give their names. And while there are similar requirements for most communicable diseases, HIV is a particularly touchy one.

The feds already keep track of people with AIDS, but feel that's no longer enough, since advances in treatment mean that a decreasing proportion of HIV-infected individuals contract full-blown AIDS. Compiling a database of the infected makes it easier to track (and prevent) the spread of the disease. But HIV/AIDS, once considered the "gay plague," still carries a stigma, and that could scare many HIV-positive people away from putting their names in a database. They may not be reassured by the CDC recommendation that states make it a felony to release the names of HIV patients. "This is all part of a larger issue of privacy versus the ability to track and help prevent a disease," notes TIME science writer Christine Gorman. "And the privacy concerns are greatly heightened in the case of HIV." Which forces HIV and gay advocacy groups to confront the burning question: Which do you value more — your privacy or the chance to halt this plague?