Partner notification for HIV and syphilis: effects on sexual behaviors and relationship stability

Sex Transm Dis. 2003 Jan;30(1):75-82. doi: 10.1097/00007435-200301000-00015.


Background: Partner notification (PN), originally designed for syphilis control, has been used to control the spread of HIV since 1985. Because HIV infection is noncurable, the benefit of contact tracing and treatment demonstrated for the control of syphilis may not apply to HIV. For HIV, PN must facilitate behavior change that will reduce the spread of the infection. One concern is that HIV PN can promote the breakup of old partnerships and increase the acquisition of new partners, thereby spreading HIV infections.

Goal: The purpose of this study was to determine the effect of partner notification (PN) on sexual behavior and relationship stability among HIV partnerships, with use of syphilis partnerships for comparison.

Study design: Partnerships were eligible if the index case was interviewed by a disease intervention specialist (DIS) for PN and named at least one sex partner. Partnership information was reported by index cases interviewed at baseline and 3 and 6 months post-PN. Trends in partnership dissolution and acquisition, sexual abstinence, condom use, emotional abuse, and physical violence reported by HIV infection and syphilis index cases were compared.

Results: A total of 157 index cases (76 HIV infection and 81 syphilis) reported 220 partnerships (94 HIV and 126 syphilis). The PN process was completed for 32.7% of partnerships and it was completed more often for partnerships that were classified as main and cohabiting. After PN, 46.8% of partnerships dissolved, 15.9% of cases acquired a new partner, and emotional abuse and physical violence decreased significantly. HIV index cases were somewhat more likely to report using condoms at last sex act and less likely to acquire a new sex partner after PN compared to syphilis index cases. There was no difference post-PN between HIV infection and syphilis partnerships for partnership dissolution, physical violence, emotional abuse and abstention from sex.

Conclusion: HIV PN did not appear to cause greater partnership dissolution, new partner acquisition, or violence compared with syphilis PN.

Publication types

  • Comment
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Cohort Studies
  • Contact Tracing*
  • Female
  • HIV Infections / epidemiology
  • HIV Infections / prevention & control*
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Louisiana / epidemiology
  • Male
  • Prospective Studies
  • Sexual Behavior*
  • Sexual Partners / psychology*
  • Spouse Abuse
  • Syphilis / epidemiology
  • Syphilis / prevention & control*