WASHINGTON (AFP) – The US government on Monday ordered US states and territories to ensure occupational trade schools and licensing agencies don't discriminate against applicants who have HIV or AIDS.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) sent letters to the states after learning that applicants were being denied admission to public and private trade schools because they are HIV positive or have AIDS.

The DOJ's civil rights division said people with HIV or AIDS have federally protected rights -- like minorities or people with disabilities -- that prohibit places such as hotels, restaurants and in this case trade schools or state licensing agencies, from discriminating against them.

"It is medically established that HIV can only be transmitted by sexual contact with an infected individual, exposure to infected blood or blood products, or perinatally from an infected mother to an infant during pregnancy, birth, or breastfeeding," the DOJ said in a fact sheet.

"HIV cannot be transmitted by casual contact. Thus, circumstances do not exist for the transmission of HIV in a school or workplace setting, including those involving massage therapy, cosmetology, or home healthcare services."

In his letter, deputy US attorney general Thomas Perez directed US states and territories to review admission and licensing criteria for trade schools and licensing agencies.

Perez asked them to "identify the existence of any criteria that unlawfully exclude or discriminate against persons with HIV/AIDS, and to take the steps necessary to bring all such programs into compliance" with federal law.

The DOJ said it recently signed an agreement with a privately run hairstyling school in Puerto Rico that initially denied admission to an HIV-positive applicant.

The school paid a small fine and agreed to discontinue requesting information about HIV/AIDS status of applicants.