Background: Partner notification (PN) among individuals newly diagnosed with HIV/STI is seen as a vital tool to identify others at risk of infection. However, hardly any data are available on the effectiveness of PN on HIV/STI transmission in the Netherlands. This study aims to fill this gap by assessing current PN practices, case-finding effectiveness, and determinants of being notified among men having sex with men (MSM) in the Netherlands.
Methods: Nurses from five STI centers participated in a prospective pilot study on PN outcomes (partners being: at risk, notifiable, notified, and tested) for HIV/STI, by completing a newly developed PN registration form (PN database). PN outcomes including case-finding effectiveness (number of newly diagnosed cases in partners/number of partners being tested) for HIV, syphilis, and gonorrhoea were studied among MSM. Furthermore, the national STI database was analyzed to identify determinants of being notified. The number of infections that remained undetected was estimated based on these two databases.
Results: In total 105 MSM, newly diagnosed with HIV/STI, reported 612 sexual partners at risk of whom 41% were notifiable and 31% were notified. Patient referral was the predominant PN method (90%). The overall case-finding percentage was 36% (HIV: 15-33%, gonorrhoea: 17-50% and syphilis: 4-11%). Case-finding percentages were lower in the national STI database: 21% (5%, 28%, 12%). Persons with one or more sexual partners, known HIV positives, and IDU were more likely to be notified to the STI clinic. Notified clients were more likely to have HIV/STI than unnotified clients (OR 1.7-2.5). Based on these two databases, an estimated 75 to 133 infections remained undetected (HIV: 12-90; gonorrhoea: 28-97; syphilis: 5-12 infections).
Conclusions: Partner notification among MSM in the Netherlands is suboptimal; an extensive number of STI/HIV infections remained undetected mainly due to unnotifiable partners. To enhance PN practices, combined and innovative PN interventions such as Internet-based PN will be implemented for hard-to-reach MSM and other risk groups.