Hepatitis B no barrier to health care work, federal officials declare
Peter Nguyen was a promising medical student when his school learned that he had tested positive for the hepatitis B virus. He said he was blackballed by school administrators and forced to halt his studies.
“I knew the stigma” that came with a hepatitis diagnosis, Nguyen said. But he thought that a medical school, of all places, would understand. “I came there expecting help. Instead, I was greeted with discrimination.”
Nguyen's prospects of becoming a physician are a lot brighter today. The Department of Justice recently declared in a legal settlement that hepatitis B patients are protected by federal disability law. And, separately, federal health officials have issued a revised set of guidelines that make it clear that health care workers and students who carry the hepatitis B virus — HBV for short — generally pose little or no risk to patients.
Taken together, advocates say, the health guidelines and the Justice Department settlement remove barriers to practice, handing HBV-positive health professionals and students a pair of powerful tools to combat discrimination.
“It gives us so much more leverage. We no longer have to wring our hands,” said Joan Block, executive director and co-founder of the Hepatitis B Foundation, a nonprofit in Doylestown, Bucks County.