A Maryland court this week heard arguments in a case filed be a woman who was infected with HIV by her husband who had unknowingly been infected with a rare strain of HIV while working in a lab at pharmaceutical company Pharmacia and Upjohn, now a part of Pfizer, the Baltimore Sun reports. The man was infected with HIV-2--a strain of the virus commonly found in parts of West Africa--while handling samples of the virus through his work as a lab technician for the company. An HIV antibody test given to the worker in 1989 provided a false positive result for HIV-1, the most common strain of the virus in the United States, but follow-up screenings were not conducted for HIV-2 infection, according to the lawsuit filed against the company.
The lawsuit claims the worker was unaware he was handling both HIV-1 and HIV-2 samples and that the pharmaceutical company should have informed the technician he could have been exposed to the rarer strain of HIV so that he could be checked for infection and avoid subsequently exposing his wife to the virus.
The fourth U.S. circuit court of appeals in February asked the Maryland court of appeals to try the case to determine how far an employer's duty extends under state law. Pharmacia officials say they have no legal obligations to people who are not its employees or those who are the sexual partners of its employees. The woman's attorney, however, says the company has a legal and moral obligation to help prevent its workers from exposing others to infections they pick up on the job. "They have reason to know he may be infected, and they don't have a duty to tell the worker so he can protect his wife? That defies common sense," the woman's attorney told the court, according to the Sun.