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Why are civil liberties of those at risk of infection not so important as those infected already?
Jun 24, 1997

How many deaths could have been prevented with contact tracing and partner notification? More people are passing the disease on than 10 years ago. Would contact tracing increase funding with the longitudinal information gathered from such a program? The scientific method worked for syphilis and TB. The strategy Ann Landers recommends and happens to be an increasing phenomenon of potential partners who got tested together before sex for everything including sexually transmitted diseases, human immunodeficiency virus, tuberculosis and immunized for hepatitis B and A used their test results to plan the potential relationship. Has policy been determined by political and religious arguments of either punishing the wicked or civil liberties instead of what course of action will stop new infections? Has policy been determined by people who are now dead?

Response from Mr. Sowadsky

Hi. Thank you for your question. Without getting into morality issues related to HIV, let me point out that partner notification is already a routine part of public health intervention, in the United States. Partner notification (also known as Contact Tracing) is used to notify persons that they may have been exposed to an infectious disease. Diseases where partner notification is used includes (but is not limited to) HIV, many Sexually Transmitted Diseases (like Syphilis, Gonorrhea, and Chlamydia), Tuberculosis, and various other communicable diseases. Partner notification for HIV, STD's, and other infectious diseases, has been in place for many years. 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 contacts 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.

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

Partner Notification for HIV and other communicable diseases has two major benefits. First of all, it identifies persons 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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