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To Notify or Not To Notify: STD Patients' Perspectives of Partner Notification in Seattle

Gorbach, Pamina M. MHS, DrPH*; Aral, Sevgi O. PhD; Celum, Connie MD, MPH*; Stoner, Bradley P. MD, PhD; Whittington, William L. H. AB§; Galea, Jerome BA*; Coronado, Nora MSW*; Connor, Simon BA*; Holmes, King K. MD, PhD*

Sexually Transmitted Diseases: April 2000 - Volume 27 - Issue 4 - p 193–200
Original Articles

Background and Objectives: To obtain patients' perspectives on why only some partners are notified in partner-notification programs, the cornerstone of sexually transmitted disease (STD) control, although low proportions of partners are located and evaluated.

Goals: To describe patterns of partner notification reported by persons with STD infection.

Study Design: In-depth interviews conducted in Seattle with 60 heterosexual men and women with gonorrhea, chlamydial infection, or nongonoccocal urethritis, and 19 men with gonorrhea reporting sex with men (MSM) were tape recorded, transcribed verbatim, and content analyzed.

Results: The typical notification pattern was to notify a main partner but not others. Least likely to be notified were partners perceived as transmitters, contacts preceding the onset of symptoms, the oral sex and anonymous contacts of MSM, one-time partners of men, and incarcerated and former partners of women. Fears among young heterosexual participants included gossip and violence (women). Fears among MSM included rejection.

Conclusions: Partner-notification programs should develop innovative approaches for partners perceived as transmitters, oral-sex only contacts of MSM, and contacts preceding symptom onset.

*From the Department of Medicine and the Center for AIDS and STD Research, University of Washington, and the §Seattle-King County Department of Public Health, Seattle, Washington; the †Division of STD Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta Georgia; and the ‡Department of Medicine, Division of Infectious Diseases, Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri

Supported by the University of Washington Cooperative STD Research Center (grant no. NIAID AI 31448), and by NIH training grant no. NIAID AI 07149. The content of this paper does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of USAID.

Reprint requests: Pamina M. Gorbach, MHS, DrPH, San Diego State University, Graduate School of Public Health CHHS, 5500 Campanile Drive, San Diego, CA 92182-4162. E-mail:

Received for publication May 18, 1999, revised October 1, 1999, and accepted October 13, 1999.

© Copyright 2000 American Sexually Transmitted Diseases Association