Atlanta, Jul 24 (AP/UNB) — As Sanjay Johnson describes it, his sexual encounter with James Booth on Oct. 2, 2015, was a one-night stand. But it would bind the men inextricably two years later, when Booth walked into an Arkansas police station and accused Johnson of exposing him to HIV.
Little Rock prosecutors pursued a criminal charge against Johnson even though a doctor said he couldn't have transmitted HIV to Booth because he was on medication that suppressed his virus.
"It really tested me just to keep going," Johnson said about his criminal case, which ended this year. "Last year, I thought of suicide."
Booth said he deserved to know about Johnson's HIV status regardless of any medical treatment.
"I could have protected myself," he said.
Roughly 20 states have laws like the one in Arkansas that make it a crime for people with HIV to have sex without first informing their partner of their infection, regardless of whether they used a condom or were on medication that made transmission of the disease effectively impossible.
Health experts and advocates for HIV patients say that rather than deterring behavior that could transmit the virus, such laws perpetuate stigma about the disease that can prevent people from getting diagnosed or treated.
North Carolina and Michigan recently updated their HIV policies to exempt HIV patients from prosecution if they're on medication that has suppressed their virus. A Louisiana law that took effect in August 2018 allows defendants to challenge a charge of exposing someone to HIV by presenting evidence that a doctor advised them they weren't infectious.
Many advocates say the new policies create an underclass of people who lack access to drugs and are therefore still vulnerable to prosecution. They say states should instead decriminalize HIV exposure altogether unless the person intends to infect someone.
"We shouldn't be creating laws that create additional strata and divisiveness among already marginalized populations," said Eric Paulk, deputy director of Georgia Equality.
The fight comes as the Trump administration aims to eradicate HIV — the virus that causes AIDS — by 2030.
The laws' defenders point to statistics showing tens of thousands of new HIV diagnoses each year and say that although the disease may not be a death sentence anymore, it still requires a lifetime of expensive medical treatment.
The Arkansas attorney general's office filed a brief last year in Johnson's case rejecting the argument that criminalizing HIV exposure no longer served any purpose.
"HIV remains a serious threat to public health," it wrote.
In Booth and Johnson's case, they met through a gay dating app.
According to Booth, Johnson denied he was HIV positive before they had unprotected sex. Johnson, 26, said he didn't remember discussing his HIV status.
A plea deal that prosecutors offered Johnson shows officials were mindful of advances in the science around HIV, said John Johnson, chief deputy prosecutor in Pulaski County. The deal allowed the accused man to avoid prison time and have his record expunged.
But prosecutors also wanted to promote the importance of disclosing HIV to potential sexual partners, he said.
"The flip side of this coin is that there is a victim to this crime," the prosecutor said.
People with HIV who are on antiretroviral drugs that keep their viral load below a specific threshold have "effectively no risk" of transmitting HIV, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But as of 2016, only a little more than half of the estimated 1.1 million people living with HIV in the U.S. were virally suppressed, the CDC says.
Sarah Lewis Peel, spokeswoman for North Carolina's Department of Health and Human Services, said in an email that her state's new policy ensures HIV prevention and control strategies are "firmly rooted in science." Responding to criticism that the change leaves some people behind, she listed multiple programs that cover HIV medication.
Critics say states should decriminalize HIV exposure altogether unless there's intent to infect someone. That would reflect the reality that HIV is manageable and not easy to contract, dozens of advocacy groups said in a July 2017 consensus statement.
Georgia may be headed in that direction. Pending legislation would require intent to transmit HIV for a prosecution.
It's not clear how many people have faced prosecution under HIV laws around the country, but data from two states analyzed by a think tank at the University of California, Los Angeles, School of Law indicate they aren't isolated occurrences. Florida and Georgia authorities made nearly 1,500 arrests on suspicion of HIV-related crimes from the 1980s through 2017, hundreds of which resulted in convictions, according to the Williams Institute.
Booth said he tested positive for HIV after his encounter with Johnson. Johnson's doctor, Nathaniel Smith, told The Associated Press that Booth couldn't have contracted HIV from Johnson because a lab test around the time of their encounter showed Johnson's viral load was too low. Smith, who testified in Johnson's case, also directs the Arkansas Department of Health.
Johnson pleaded no contest in February to aggravated assault as part of his deal with prosecutors and was sentenced to five years' probation. He would have faced up to 30 years behind bars and the possibility of having to register as a sex offender had a jury convicted him of the HIV-exposure charge.
He has a new job helping people manage their diets but said his arrest and prosecution left a scar.
"It did make me more closed off," he said.
Booth said he has sympathy for what Johnson went through but stands by his decision to tell police.
"It was something that needed to be done," he said.
Space weather threatens high-tech life
Roger Dube Rochester Institute of Technology
(The Conversation is an independent and nonprofit source of news, analysis and commentary from academic experts.)
Roger Dube, Rochester Institute of Technology
(THE CONVERSATION) Shortly after 4 a.m. on a crisp, cloudless September morning in 1859, the sky above what is currently Colorado erupted in bright red and green colors. Fooled by the brightness into thinking it was an early dawn, gold-rush miners in the mountainous region of what was then called the Kansas Territory woke up and started making breakfast. What happened in more developed regions was even more disorienting, and carries a warning for the wired high-tech world of the 21st century.
As the sky lit up over the nighttime side of the Earth, telegraph systems worldwide went berserk, clacking nonsense code and emitting large sparks that ignited fires in nearby piles of paper tape. Telegraph operators suffered electrical burns. Even disconnecting the telegraph units from their power sources didn’t stop the frenzy, because the transmission wires themselves were carrying huge electrical currents. Modern technology had just been humbled by a fierce space weather storm that had arrived from the sun, the largest ever recorded – and more than twice as powerful as a storm nine years earlier, which had itself been the largest in known history.
My seven years of research on predicting solar storms, combined with my decades using GPS satellite signals under various solar storm conditions, indicate that today’s even more sensitive electronics and satellites would be devastated should an event of that magnitude occur again. In 2008, a panel of experts commissioned by the National Academy of Sciences issued a detailed report with a sobering conclusion: The world would be thrown back to the life of the early 1800s, and it would take years – or even a decade – to recover from an event that large.
A solar explosion
Space weather storms have happened since the birth of the solar system, and have hit Earth many times, both before and after that massive event in 1859, which was named the Carrington event after a British astronomer who recorded his observations of the sun at the time. They’re caused by huge electromagnetic explosions on the surface of the sun, called coronal mass ejections. Each explosion sends billions of protons and electrons, in a superheated ball of plasma, out into the solar system.
About 1 in every 20 coronal mass ejections heads in a direction that intersects Earth’s orbit. Around three days later, our planet experiences what is called a space weather storm or a geomagnetic storm.
While these events are described using terms like “weather” and “storm,” they do not affect whether it’s rainy or sunny, hot or cold, or other aspects of what it’s like outdoors on any given day. Their effects are not meteorological, but only electromagnetic.
When the coronal mass ejection arrives at Earth, the charged particles collide with air molecules in the upper atmosphere, generating heat and light called aurora.
Also, as happens anytime moving electrical charges encounter a magnetic field, the interaction creates a spontaneous electrical current in any conductor that’s available. If the plasma ball is big enough, its interaction with Earth’s magnetic field can induce large currents on long wires on the ground, like the one that overloaded telegraph circuits in 1859.
On March 13, 1989, a storm only about one-fifth as strong as the Carrington event hit Earth. It induced a large surge of current in the long power lines of the Hydro-Quebec power grid, causing physical damage to transmission equipment and leaving 6 million people without power for nine hours. Another storm-induced power surge destroyed a large transformer at a New Jersey nuclear plant. Even though a spare transformer was nearby, it still took six months to remove and replace the melted unit. Some people worried that the bright auroral lights meant nuclear war had broken out.
And in October 2003, a rapid series of solar storms affected Earth. Collectively called the Halloween solar storm, this series caused surges that threatened the North American power grid. Its effects on satellites made GPS navigation erratic and interrupted communications connections during the peak of the storm.
Larger storms will have wider effects, cause more damage and take longer to recover from.
Geomagnetic storms attack the lifeblood of modern technology: electricity. A space weather storm typically lasts for two or three days, during which the entire planet is subjected to powerful electromagnetic forces. The National Academy of Sciences study concluded that an especially massive storm would damage and shut down power grids and communications networks worldwide.
After the storm passed, there would be no simple way to restore power. Manufacturing plants that build replacements for burned-out lines or power transformers would have no electricity themselves. Trucks needed to deliver raw materials and finished equipment wouldn’t be able to fuel up, either: Gas pumps run on electricity. And what pumps were running would soon dry up, because electricity also runs the machinery that extracts oil from the ground and refines it into usable fuel.
With transportation stalled, food wouldn’t get from farms to stores. Even systems that seem non-technological, like public water supplies, would shut down: Their pumps and purification systems need electricity. People in developed countries would find themselves with no running water, no sewage systems, no refrigerated food, and no way to get any food or other necessities transported from far away. People in places with more basic economies would also be without needed supplies from afar.
It could take between four and 10 years to repair all the damage. In the meantime, people would need to grow their own food, find and carry and purify water, and cook meals over fires.
Some systems would continue to operate, of course: bicycles, horse-drawn carriages and sailing ships. But another type of equipment that would keep working provides a clue to preventing this type of disaster: Electric cars would continue to work, but only in places where there were solar panels and wind turbines to recharge them.
Preparing and protecting
Geomagnetic storms would affect those small-scale installations far less than grid-scale systems. It’s a basic principle of electricity and magnetism that the longer a wire that’s exposed to a moving magnetic field, the larger the current that’s induced in that wire.
In 1859, the telegraph system was so profoundly affected because it had wires stretching from city to city across the U.S. Those very long wires had to handle enormous amounts of energy all at once, and failed. Today, there are long runs of wires connecting power generators to consumers – such as from Niagara Falls to New York City – that would be similarly susceptible to large induced currents.
The only way to reduce vulnerability to geomagnetic storms is to substantially revamp the power grid. Now, it is a vast web of wires that effectively spans continents. Governments, businesses and communities need to work together to split it into much smaller components, each serving a town or perhaps even a neighborhood – or an individual house. These “microgrids” can be connected to each other, but should have protections built in to allow them to be disconnected quickly when a storm approaches. That way, the length of wires affected by the storm will be shorter, reducing the potential for damage.
A family using solar panels and batteries for storage and an electric car to get around would likely find its water supply, natural gas or internet service disrupted. But their freedom to travel, and to use electric lights to work after dark, would provide a much better chance at survival.
When will the next storm hit?
People should start preparing today. It’s impossible to know when a major storm will hit next: The most we’ll get is a three-day warning when something happens on the surface of the sun. It’s really only a matter of time before there is another one like the Carrington event.
Solar astrophysicists are also studying the sun to identify any events or conditions that might herald a coronal mass ejection. They’re collecting enormous amounts of data about the sun and using computer analysis to try to connect that information to geomagnetic storms on Earth. This work is underway and will become more refined over time. The research has not yet yielded a reliable prediction of a coming solar storm before an ejection occurs, but it improves each year.
In my view, the safest course of action involves developing microgrids based on renewable energy. That would not only improve people’s quality of life around the planet right now, but also provide the best opportunity to maintain that lifestyle when adverse events happen.
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article here: http://theconversation.com/space-weather-threatens-high-tech-life-92711.