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after the result, who finds out? (Reporting/Partner Notification)
Mar 17, 1998

I have heard that if a person tests positive they have to tell the doctors who they have had intercourse with and the doctor puts their name on a national list so that every doctor knows. Is this true?

Response from Mr. Sowadsky

Hi. Thank you for your question.

The answer to this question depends on what state and country you live in. I will base my answer strictly for the United States, since I am not familiar with reporting laws in other countries.

In all US states and territories, if a person is diagnosed with AIDS, by law, their name is reported to the health department in that state or territory. In addition to this, in 31 of the 50 states, the law requires that a diagnosis of HIV (but not yet having AIDS) is also reportable to the state health department. Although HIV reporting is not presently required in all 50 states, there is a significant chance that HIV reporting will be required by all US states and territories in the future. Although individual states and territories keep a record of the names of persons diagnosed with AIDS (and in some states, those testing HIV positive as well), those names are NEVER sent to the federal government! There is no national list of persons with HIV or AIDS! I cannot emphasize this more! The only information that the federal government receives, is statistical and demographic information of infected persons (age, risk factors, race, etc.). Identifying information about people with HIV/AIDS (name, address, phone number, etc.) are NOT reported to the federal government! There are both federal and state confidentiality laws that prohibit unauthorized persons from having access to the health departments medical records. For example, employers, relatives, friends, spouses, insurance companies, other governmental agencies, medical clinics, etc., DO NOT have access to these medical records, unless specifically permitted under federal and state law.

Many other communicable diseases (for example Tuberculosis, Gonorrhea, Syphilis, Chlamydia, Hepatitis etc.) have been reportable by name to local health departments for decades. When health departments are made aware of a communicable disease, they then follow-up on the case to ensure that the person is treated, and that others who may have been exposed to the disease, are tested (and when necessary, treated as well). This is called "Contact Tracing" or "Partner Notification". Contact Tracing has been a valuable tool to prevent further spread of infectious diseases. Contact tracing is most effective when begun as soon as possible. Let me explain how this system works, using HIV as an example.

When a person tests HIV positive, it is important that the sex and needle sharing partners of that person, be notified that they may have been exposed to HIV. This is because many people who have been exposed to HIV are unaware that they were exposed. These partners can be notified one of two ways. First, the person who has tested positive can notify their partners themselves. The other option is to have the local Health Department notify their partners for them.

When the local Health Department notifies someone that they may have been exposed, the source person is NOT identified. For example, if "Terry" tested HIV positive, and named "Pat" as a sexual partner, the Health Department would go out to notify Pat that they have been exposed to HIV. Pat would NOT be told it was Terry who tested positive, nor any identifying or locating information about Terry. All Pat would be told is that someone in the United States who tested HIV positive, named them as a contact. This system protects Terry's confidentiality, while at the same time, ensuring that Pat is made aware of their possible infection with HIV.

Partner Notification (Contact Tracing) for HIV and other communicable diseases has two major benefits. First of all, it identifies persons known to be at risk of infection, and makes them aware of their exposure. They are then given the opportunity to get tested, and when necessary, get treated as well. Partner Notification also gives an exposed individual an opportunity to learn more about that disease, and how to prevent re-exposure in the future. So Partner Notification involves testing, treatment, education, and prevention.

Of course, disease intervention cannot depend on Partner Notification alone. However this proven public health intervention method is an important part of prevention and care for various infectious diseases.

If you have any further questions, please feel free to call the Centers for Disease Control at 1.800.232.4636 (Nationwide).



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