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U.S. Settles With Medical Schools That Rejected Applicants With Hepatitis B

The U.S. Justice Department and the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey have reached a settlement that resolves complaints that two of the university’s medical schools had rejected some applicants because they had hepatitis B, the department said in a news release. The complaints cited violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act, and the agency said the agreement marked the first time it had settled complaints under that act on behalf of people with hepatitis B.

The case involved applicants who had been accepted to the university’s School of Medicine and its School of Osteopathic Medicine, but whose acceptances were revoked after the schools learned that they had hepatitis B. The department said it had determined that the schools had no lawful basis for excluding the applicants, citing updated guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that mentions medical students among a number of categories of health-care workers who are not known to have transmitted hepatitis B to a patient in the United States in at least two decades.

“Excluding people with disabilities from higher education based on unfounded fears or incorrect scientific information is unacceptable,” Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for the department’s civil-rights division, said in the news release.

Under the settlement, the university must adopt a disability-rights policy that is based on the CDC’s updated guidance on hepatitis B, provide training to employees on the disability act’s requirements, permit the applicants to enroll in the schools, and pay the applicants a total of $75,000 in compensation and tuition credits.

(Update, 4:19 p.m., 3/7/2013) In a statement provided on Thursday, the university explained why it had initially rescinded the applicants’ acceptances. At the time, the statement says, “both students had viral loads of 6,400 times greater than the limits recommended by the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America (SHEA).”

A committee of medical experts determined that because the two students were highly infectious, “their functioning as medical students, including any participation in exposure-prone invasive procedures that they may encounter in their clinical education, would pose significant safety risks to patients.”

The students were later informed that their admissions would be deferred for one year to allow them to receive treatment, the statement says. “After the students followed a treatment process recommended by the university, their levels of infectivity decreased dramatically and it was determined that they fit within accepted guidelines for accepting students with HBV.”

The statement says that both students are or will be matriculating this year.

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