Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Colorado's Disease Intervention Specialists: Contacting Partners to Help Stop Infection

By Tom Deem and Yesenia Mendez

Disease Intervention Specialists are highly skilled public health professionals who assist in protecting the health of Coloradans by interviewing individuals who have tested positive for HIV or a sexually transmitted infection (STI). We are always aware of the sensitive nature of our work and the confidentiality of our clients as we get those infected into treatment and prevent the spread of disease.

At the heart of what we do to prevent the spread of infection is “Partner Services”. This voluntary and highly effective practice allows us to keep up with STI/HIV exposure by helping infected individuals identify any of their sex or needle sharing partners and notifying them that they may be at risk.

When we contact partners that may have been exposed, we never share identifying information, including timeframes, that would help someone narrow down who is involved or infected. If an infected individual chooses to notify their partners of their exposure on their own we can help them decide on the best way to do so. What we do is very similar to the services featured on NPR’s All Things Considered yesterday in the segment “So, You Have Gonorrhea. Who Tells Your Ex?”.

It is natural to feel surprised or “caught off-guard” when someone from the Colorado Department of Public Health Environment (CDPHE) contacts you unexpectedly about STI or HIV exposure. But rest assured we are doing so seriously and professionally. We contact partners through a phone call, a letter, a text-message, e-mail or sometimes even a home visit. By collecting specific information during our follow-up interviews we can be sure we are locating the correct person. That information can include a combination of first/last names, phone numbers, screen names, age, employer, a physical description and a either a full or partial address. How much can you remember about the last person you had sex with?

We put this much effort into contacting individuals because of our concern for their health. We always perform our jobs with privacy and sensitivity as our top priorities.  The information we have is shared directly with the individual named, and only that person. No one else, including family, friends, coworkers or any other third party--regardless of their relationship to the person--is given this information, or even the reason for our contact. DIS are highly trained and take their work very seriously.

Adam4Adam (see note), the men’s online dating and hookup site says: “Hopefully you will never need to receive partner services. But, if you do, you can rest assured that the person you are speaking with can help. No matter how you got an infection, the right thing to do is to make sure that your partners have the chance to get treatment they may need. Even if the person who infected you did not inform you, you can do the right thing and make sure that your partners are informed.”

Note: Adam4Adam contains sexually graphic material and messages not endorsed by the CDPHE. This quote was taken from  Adam4Adam’s Health Blog on October 12, 2013 from a post published on March, 3, 2011.

1 comment:

  1. This is important work. Thanks for all you do to keep the public safe and for promoting sexual health. :)


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