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J Natl Med Assoc. 1998 September; 90(9): 542–546.
PMCID: PMC2568283

Partner notification and focused intervention as a means of identifying HIV-positive patients.


Partner notification as a means of contact tracing human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)-infected persons remains controversial. It is argued against by many gay activists, while primary public health officials and leaders in ethnic communities continue to support this as a means of identifying unknown cases. Human immunodeficiency virus-positive patients were interviewed to determine if partner notification could be a useful instrument. Based on interviews, patients at risk of infection through heterosexual contact were able to identify most of their sexual partners; the majority of these patients were women. Twenty-two of 22 women infected heterosexually were able to identify all of their sexual partners. Five of 8 heterosexual men were able to identify all of their sexual partners, but these men were infected through intravenous drug use. Six of 44 homosexual men interviewed were able to make these identifications. Two focus groups of homosexual men who were HIV-positive patients were organized; each was asked one question. Men in group B were asked if they could identify HIV-positive persons whom they suspected were not in a treatment program. Men in group A were asked if they they thought they knew HIV-positive persons still practicing unsafe sex. Thirteen of the 14 patients in group A were able to identify 30 persons they felt were still practicing unsafe sex; 17 of 30 tested HIV-positive and 9 were unaware of their status. The 14 patients in group B identified 15 persons they felt were HIV-positive; 11 were found to be HIV-positive and 8 were unaware of their status. These findings suggest that partner notification definitely has a role in heterosexual contact tracing, and focused intervention is a more cost-effective approach to early intervention.

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