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Sexual Partners

Partner Counseling and Referral Services (PCRS)

Once you have been diagnosed, you will be asked to identify your sexual and needle-sharing partners, so that they can be told that they have been exposed to HIV and need to be tested. Partner notification is one of the most important ways to prevent the spread of HIV. (It’s also important, of course, that you use a condom during sex and don’t share needles.)

The Partner Counseling and Referral Service (PCRS) can help you with notifying your partner(s). Most state public health departments have a PCRS program. PCRS can also help your partner(s) get counseling, a medical evaluation, treatment, and any other services they may need.

Notifying and Testing Partners

Once you have identified your partners, they should be notified as soon as possible. This gives them an opportunity to protect themselves from infection if they don’t have HIV—or, if they are having sex or sharing needles with others—to take steps to protect or notify those partners.

Notification can happen in four ways:

  • Provider referral means that your healthcare provider notifies your partner(s) for you.
  • Self-referral means that you notify your partner(s) yourself.
  • Contract referral means that you make a “contract” to notify your partner(s) by a particular date. If, by the contract date, your partners have not come in for counseling and testing, the health department will contact them.
  • Dual referral means that you and the health department will notify your partner(s) together.

If your partner(s) are notified by your healthcare provider or the health department, they will also be given information about where they can get tested for HIV and where they can find treatment if they need it. Healthcare officials would prefer that people get tested for HIV at the same time they’re notified because not everyone follows through on going to the testing sites.

It’s possible for your partner(s) to test negative for HIV even when they are already infected if they take the test during the window period. That’s the time between when a person is infected with HIV and the time that the body develops antibodies to the virus. Partners are advised to be retested 3 months after the date of their last known exposure.

For more information, see CDC’s Partner Services.

Disclosing without Patient Consent

A physician or HIV counselor may disclose a patient’s HIV status without his or her consent only under the following conditions:

  • The physician or counselor has made a reasonable effort to counsel and encourage the patient to voluntarily provide this information to the spouse or sexual partner.
  • The physician or counselor reasonably believes the patient will not provide the information to the spouse or sexual partner.
  • Disclosure is necessary to protect the health of the spouse or sexual partner.

Fact Sheets & Print Materials

Related Topics on AIDS.gov

Frequently Asked Questions

What are partner services?

Partner services include a variety of related services which are offered to people diagnosed with HIV or other STDs and their sex or needle-sharing partners. Some of the services include: notifying partners of their exposure; risk-reduction counseling; referrals for additional prevention services; STD/HIV testing and treatment; linkages to medical care and treatment; and referring partners to other services.

When are partner services offered?

Partner services should be offered to patients as soon after their diagnosis as possible. Likewise, partners should be notified of their possible exposure and provided treatment (for curable STDs) or testing and linkage to medical care (for HIV) as soon as possible. Partner notification typically occurs within 2-3 working days of identification, unless there is an indication of potential partner violence. For more information, see CDC’s HIV, Hepatitis, STD and TB Partners: Partner Services FAQs.

Will my parents find out I used partner services?

All 50 states and the District of Columbia allow minors to consent to STD services without parental consent or knowledge, although some states specify that the minor must be of a certain age (usually 12 or 14 years). In addition, 31 states explicitly mention that HIV testing and counseling services are among STD services to which a minor can consent. For more information, see CDC’s HIV, Hepatitis, STD and TB Partners: Partner Services FAQs.

Additional Resources

Last revised: 08/24/2009