‘Contact Tracers’ Help Track Former Sex Partners of People With STDs, HIV
The San Diego Union-Tribune yesterday profiled the work of "contact tracers" -- public health workers who track down the former sex partners of people who have tested positive for sexually transmitted diseases. Also called "partner notification experts," the workers travel to homes, shelters, parks or bars to seek out the former partners of people who have tested positive for an STD and notify them that they may have been exposed to the disease. Contact tracers sometimes take a blood sample from the partner "on the spot" and, if the sample tests positive for a disease, may ask the person if he or she would like to name partners who could have been exposed. Contact tracers from across the country met last week during the CDC's National STD Prevention Conference to explore new ways of discussing STDs with contacts and possibilities of new research in the field. Workers must know how to ask "sexually explicit questions without angering or alienating" contacts, and they must also keep the names of the people who tested positive for the disease confidential, despite requests from contacts to reveal the person's identity. Contact tracers must also counsel people who are "long in denial or who just don't care" about their disease or risk, and they must sometimes visit unsafe neighborhoods to seek out contacts.
HIV Sometimes Separated
Some states currently include HIV on the list of traceable diseases, and many contact tracers at the STD conference "complained that AIDS gobbles most of the STD funds, manpower and publicity" in the realm of STDs. Many public health departments created separate HIV divisions because the virus was initially seen as "more socially and legally complex" than other STDs. However, the "lines between [HIV] and other STDs have blurred," partly because there is now "more candor about risky behaviors," the Union-Tribune reports. A growing number of investigators believe that separating HIV and other STD investigative work "wastes precious time and money" (Clark, San Diego Union-Tribune, 3/11).