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Friend won't tell past partners of recently HIV diagnosis
Jun 5, 2011

My friend recently found out he was HIV+. I'm helping him through it based on my experience with living with HIV. One area I don't know how to handle though is his lack of responsibility in telling past partners. He believes he was infected about a year ago by his ex yet he hasn't said anything. I don't agree with this but not sure how involved I should get. I would like him to do the right thing but I understand why he's fearful of saying anything, but I also don't want someone out there possibly with the virus and not know about it.

Response from Dr. Fawcett

It is estimated that more than 20% of the HIV+ people in the US don't know their status. An HIV+ person who is untreated is vastly more likely to infect another person than someone who is on meds. Unfortunately the shame and stigma of being positive are still so strong that many people, like your friend, are reluctant to inform past partners (or anyone else) of their diagnosis. I would encourage your friend to quickly work through his concerns about disclosure and then do the right thing - lives depend on it.

-David

Response from Dr. Fawcett

A reader rightly pointed out that I neglected to mention anonymous reporting services operated by local health departments. As he wrote, notifying someone of your status in person, however noble it may be, isn't the only choice. HIV is a diagnosis that, by mandate, is reported to local or state health departments. Staff have the difficult job of following up with a person's sexual contacts to inform them that they may be at risk for HIV (or other sexually transmitted diseases). This is anonymous, meaning the identity of the person who tested positive is protected. It's not entirely comprehensive but it's an essential component of public health. Thanks to the reader.

-David



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