Partner Services Frequently Asked Questions
What is Partner Services?
When you test positive for a sexually transmitted infection (STI), including HIV, the local health department in your area offers Partner Services. These are free, voluntary and confidential sexual health services offered by your local health department. These services are offered to people who test positive for certain STIs like syphilis, HIV, chlamydia or gonorrhea.
Partner Services staff (also known as Disease Intervention Specialists or “DIS”) contact people with STIs and their sex partners to:
- Answer your questions about STIs
- Help you get treatment if you have not done so already
- Tell your partners, or help you tell your partners, they may have been exposed to an STI
- Help your partners get tested and treated for STIs
Partner Services help prevent the spread of STIs, and help protect you from getting infected again.
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How do I know the person contacting me is from the health department and not someone making a prank call?
If a DIS calls you on the phone to offer Partner Services, you may ask to speak with a supervisor to verify the caller’s identity. Or, you may request their main phone number to call back and confirm the caller is from the health department. If meeting in person, you may ask the DIS to present their employer-issued identification badge.
Will DIS tell my partners that I gave their name to the health department?
No. Your information is confidential. DIS will never tell your partners any information about you, including your name, when you were tested or when they may have been exposed to an STI. Though your partners may guess who might have infected them, DIS will never reveal your identity.
Can I tell my partners myself?
Yes. You may tell your partners that you have an infection and they may, too. You can bring them in to the health department or encourage them to go to their own health care provider for testing and treatment. The DIS can help you plan and practice what to say to your partners. If you do not feel safe telling your partners yourself and fear a negative or dangerous reaction, a DIS can tell them for you while still protecting your identity.
If I make sure to get treated, why do I (or a DIS) need to tell my partners they may have been exposed?
Even if you are treated and your partners have no symptoms, there is still a chance they have the STI and will re-infect you if they are not treated. If you are no longer seeing that partner, it is still important to stop the spread of STIs so they don’t infect another partner. People deserve to know if they may have been infected with an STI. Then they can get treatment as soon as possible and avoid passing the infection on to someone else.
I don’t think my partner is sleeping with anyone but me. Will they figure out it was me who exposed them to an STI?
Your partner might think you infected them, but they may have infected you. The DIS will never discuss this with your partners. We encourage you to have an open and honest conversation with your partner about STI testing if you feel safe doing so. The DIS can help you plan what to say to your partner, or tell your partner for you. Remember, if your partner is infected and not treated, you may get infected again.
What if I am worried for my safety if my partner finds out I have an STI?
Your safety is very important to us! The DIS is trained to discuss these concerns with you and will help you make a plan, provide resources and refer you to a shelter or get other help from organizations that specialize in domestic violence. Or, you may decide it is too dangerous for your partner to be notified. In that case, the DIS will never tell a partner about a possible STI exposure.
I have a lot of partners, and many of them I met online so I only have their screen names. Can the DIS locate them?
The DIS will work with you to tell as many different partners as you want. We may be able to reach your partners by their screen names or social media accounts. The more information you give the DIS, the easier it will be for us to find and tell your partners. Any information you provide will be helpful including phone number, nicknames, physical description, hangouts, etc. Again, the DIS will protect your identity if you choose to have the health department tell these partners on your behalf.
What if my partners live in a different state?
The DIS will provide Partner Services no matter where your partners live. DIS work with DIS from other state and local health departments across the United States, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. The DIS in the areas where your partners live will contact your partners and tell them that they should be tested for STIs. No matter where your partners live, they will not be told any information about you including where you live.
Are my needle-sharing partners at risk?
It depends. Based on what infection you have, the DIS will explain when a person is most likely to spread infection, and what kind of contact (needle-sharing or sexual) could lead to the spread of that infection. Based on this discussion, the DIS will focus on telling your sex or needle-sharing partners or both. Remember, the purpose of Partner Services is to make sure your partners get the medical testing and treatment they need, and that you don’t get infected again. The purpose is not to get you in trouble. The DIS will never give your name to law enforcement if you say you use, or used to use, illegal drugs.
Am I required to participate in Partner Services activities?
No. The health department staff cannot force you to talk to them but they will strongly encourage you to. The DIS may try to contact you several times. Help them help you by being honest about your partners. It is important that your partners be told of possible infections so they can be tested and treated before they get sick or pass the infection to someone else (or back to you!).
Why are my partners the health department’s business?
Providing Partner Services is the best way to stop the spread of STIs. Many people do not have symptoms (feel sick) and don’t know they have an STI. If your partners don’t know they have an infection, and don’t get treated, they can continue to pass STIs to partners. Pregnant women can pass STIs to their unborn infants. Without treatment, you may have long-term health problems including being unable to get pregnant, blindness, and neurological problems. It is important to get tested and treated early to stop the spread of the infection.
If Partner Services is protecting my identity, why do they need my name and medical information? Can’t they just tell my partners if I provide their names?
No. The health department must verify your identity and your diagnosis to make sure people don’t use the system as a prank. Your personal information is kept confidential and never disclosed to your partners without your consent.
Does this service cost money?
No. Partner Services is free to you and your partners.
Will you tell my employer?
No. Your employer will not be told anything about you. Partner Services is confidential. Only your exposed partners will be told they may have an infection and your name will not be mentioned.