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Prison Dentist Sues to Hide AIDS

A dentist who has treated patients at the Metropolitan Corrections Center, Chicago's federal prison, recently filed a lawsuit trying to prevent the Bureau of Prisons from disclosing the fact that he has AIDS to anyone except in medically justified cases.

In what lawyers say may be the first case in the U.S. of a health care worker filing suit to prevent disclosure of information on AIDS infection, the dentist is identified only as a bureau employee who is a health care professional.

The suit, filed by the Illinois American Civil Liberties Union lawyers, says the dentist fears he is in danger from inmates and is concerned he will be discriminated against and ostracized now that his AIDS infection has been revealed.

The Bureau of Prisons issued a press release saying the dentist had notified the bureau "that he has AIDS." The release said "there is an extremely low risk of HIV transmission to any of his patients," but said the agency was "in the process of notifying all the dentist's former patients of this matter. "A federal prisons official said the bureau intends to notify each of the approximately 2,800 patients the dentist treated at the Chicago facility.

The dentist is no longer working at the center in any capacity and has withdrawn from the clinical practice of dentistry, said a spokesman for the bureau. "While the infection risk is virtually zero," the bureau said, "in an abundance of caution [we are] currently in the process of notifying all the dentist's former patients ... and will be offering testing and counseling to them" at federal expense.

A toll-free number (1-800-554-4847) has been established for former inmates seeking information on whether they have ever received clinical care from the dentist and to arrange free HIV testing.

The only documented case in which patients contracted AIDS during medical or dental treatment involved Dr. David Acer, a Florida dentist who died of AIDS last year. Seven of his patients tested positive for HIV; one has died.

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