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Medical News

Notice of Partner's HIV May Not Result in Break Up

March 5, 2003

People who find out their partner is HIV-infected are no more likely to break off the relationship than those who find out their partner has syphilis, according to a new study of partner notification programs.

In nearly half of HIV-infection cases, the relationship did end, according to the study, but the breakup rate was on par with that seen with syphilis cases. And in a second report, also evaluating partner notification programs, participants said the notification was not a factor in the breakup.

Implemented in the 1930s to fight the spread of syphilis, partner notification has been used to control the spread of HIV since 1985. Notification opponents argue that it may cause partners of HIV-infected individuals to end the relationship, possibly facilitating the spread of the virus as infected individuals form new relationships. Some also believe it may cause notified individuals to emotionally or physically abuse their partner, given the incurable nature of HIV as opposed to syphilis.

But the two studies show that partner notification may not have such effects -- at least not for couples in long-term relationships or who report living together. Such programs may actually decrease sexually risky behavior by increasing condom use, according to one of the reports. The reports, "Partner Notification for HIV and Syphilis: Effects on Sexual Behaviors and Relationship Stability," "Changes in Partnerships and HIV Risk Behaviors After Partner Notification," and "Editorial: Partner Notification for HIV: Running Out of Excuses" were published in Sexually Transmitted Diseases (2003;30:75-82,83-88,89-90).

In the first study, Dr. Patricia J. Kissinger of Tulane University in Louisiana and colleagues looked at 76 HIV-positive individuals and 81 people with syphilis, who were involved in a total of 220 relationships. They found that notification did not lead to more relationship breakups among HIV-positive individuals, in comparison to syphilis-infected persons. Overall, nearly half (47 percent) of the relationships dissolved, and 16 percent of study participants reported beginning new relationships.

The second study, led by Dr. Tamara Hoxworth of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment in Denver, found that although 185 out of 284 partnerships dissolved within six months after partner notification, none of the couples said the breakup was due to their notification experience. "These findings suggest that partner notification can help reduce HIV transmission within the community," they conclude.

In the accompanying editorial, Colorado-based independent consultant John J. Potterat wrote that the findings' true value "rests on how persuasive they will be to those in positions of public health authority. What is clear is that avoidance behavior toward HIV partner notification ... is no longer defensible."

Back to other CDC news for March 5, 2003

Previous Updates

Adapted from:
Reuters Health
02.17.03; Charnicia E. Huggins

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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.