Telling Others You Have HIV
Am I Legally Required to Share My HIV Status With Others?
Even though disclosing your HIV status may be uncomfortable, doing so gives you protection under the law, and allows others to make choices to protect themselves and give them peace of mind. In some states, there are laws that require you to share your HIV status with your sex and injection drug-use partners.
Health care providers and other HIV-related service providers need to know so that they can support you and make sure you have access to the health care services that you need. Disclosing your HIV status also protects your health care provider. Even though health care providers take precautions, such as wearing gloves to avoid coming into direct contact with a patient's blood, letting them know you have HIV will remind them to be very careful and take precautions.
Sex or injection drug-use partners need to know to protect their health. Telling new partners that you have HIV before you have sex or inject drugs together allows them to make decisions that can protect their health or provide added peace of mind, like taking PrEP or PEP and using condoms consistently and correctly.
You do not have to tell your employer. But, if you have to take extended leave or alter your schedule, you may want to. By law, your disclosure is confidential.
The following resources can provide more information on sharing your HIV status with others:
- The Center for HIV Law and Policy identifies which states have HIV-specific criminal laws and provides additional resources about disclosure, confidentiality, and the law.
- Your state health department can also provide information on your state's laws and how they apply to disclosure.
How Do I Let My Partners Know They May Have Been Exposed to HIV?
If you have been diagnosed with HIV or another sexually transmitted disease (STD) (like syphilis, gonorrhea, or chlamydia), it is very important to let your current and former sex or injection drug-use partners know that they may have been exposed. Informing partners that you have HIV lets them know that they should be tested for HIV. These conversations can be challenging because you may have become infected by one of these individuals or you may have infected one or more of them without knowing.
There are a few ways to let your partners know:
- You tell your partners.
- The health department tells your partners, this is sometimes called "Partner Services".
- You and the health department staff work together to tell your partners
Through Partner Services, health department staff notify your current and former sex and/or injection drug-use partners that they may have been exposed to HIV or another STD and provide them with testing, counseling, and referrals for other services
Partner Services programs are available through health departments and some medical offices or clinics. Your health care provider, social worker, case manager, patient navigator, or HIV testing center can help put you in touch with a Partner Services program.
Should I Share My HIV Status With My Friends and Family?
Sharing your HIV status with certain family members and friends has both emotional and practical benefits. Having trusted people to talk to can help you deal with an HIV diagnosis. They can also support you with the longer-term issues of treatment and disclosing your status to others. Trusting people with this knowledge will allow them to speak for you in case of an emergency and to help you navigate the medical system. Don't overlook the expertise of people you know. Many people have had these difficult conversations and they can help you work through what you will say.
Some conversation starters to help you begin talking about your status with others include:
- There's something I want to tell you, I'm living with HIV. Have you ever known someone with HIV?
- About a year ago, I found out that I'm HIV-positive. Since then, I've been taking medication and I feel good.
[Note from TheBody: This article was created by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who last updated it on Jul 25, 2018. We have cross-posted it with their permission.]