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"Sex Cops" Help Find Those Who Spread Diseases

March 14, 2002

They are dubbed the "sex police." Officially, they are called "contact tracers," "partner notification experts," "harm reductionists," "communicable disease investigators" or "disease intervention specialists." Whatever their moniker, hundreds of them from around the nation gathered in San Diego last week for the National STD Conference. They came to share strategies for getting people to talk and listen, and to explore possibilities for new research.

"We're trying to make America more aware of the fact that this group of diseases costs $10 billion a year, not including the cost of HIV infection," said Dr. Ronald O. Valdiserri, deputy STD director for the CDC, the conference sponsor.

Contact tracing of venereal diseases was established 50 years ago. Now health workers in some states also notify people who might have HIV. Most workers are college graduates who spent at least six to 12 weeks in specialized training to learn about the subject and how to ask sexually explicit questions without angering or alienating. They also learn how to draw blood and how to work in unsafe circumstances.

While many clients return with thanks, that is often not their initial reaction. "They'd slam the door in your face, threaten to sue or sic their dog on you," said Vanessa Jones of Prince Georges County, Md. Jones also described situations in which investigators try to speak privately with women despite jealous spouses or boyfriends. Sometimes investigators must convince frightened, undocumented aliens to get treatment.

Charlie Tolbert of Birmingham, Ala., described a case in which one 19-year-old impregnated four young women, also giving each HIV. When the man was identified, Tolbert told him, "Basically, you're killing people." As a result of the investigators' work, the women were given AIDS drugs that will likely protect their infants from HIV infection.

There was also concern that most STD funds are devoted to AIDS. Increasingly, investigators think separating HIV and other STD investigative work wastes time and money.

Back to other CDC news for March 14, 2002

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Adapted from:
San Diego Union-Tribune
03.11.02; Cheryl Clark

This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
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