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Who will see my STI test results?

Dear Alice,

I have been thinking about getting tested for STIs for a while now but have been concerned with medical privacy policy. From the research I have done, I have not been able to find if I tested positive for an STI would I be referred to in name as a 'risk to public safety' or simply as a statistic. I know that this will be placed in my medical records and documented for the rest of my life. Will I have a label attached to my name for the rest of my life? Who will be notified if I do test positive for something like syphilis or herpes?

Thanks a lot,

— Nervous

Dear Nervous, 

Many people have wondered about their level of privacy regarding their sexually transmitted infections (STI) test results. To answer your questions: depending on the test, your results may or may not appear in your medical records. Additionally, who’s notified about the results of those tests can depend on many factors, including which state you live in, your age, and which disease or condition you’ve tested positive for. Read on to learn more. 

Let’s start at the beginning when you’re choosing a test. STI tests may be “anonymous” or “confidential”: 

  • Anonymous testing means that only you will know your result. Anonymous tests are typically rapid self-tests or involve a unique identifier to allow you to get access to results. This option is often available for HIV tests, but there's mixed information as to whether anonymous tests are available for other STIs. 
  • Confidential testing means your result will appear on your medical record. While your name and other personal information will be associated with your results, these results may or may not be shared with your health care provider and health insurance company depending on the disease or condition. However, if these results are shared with these entities, they can’t share your results without your permission because of state and federal privacy laws. 

If you choose to get a confidential test, and test positive, various people or entities may be notified, including: 

  • Local health departments or the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Certain diseases and conditions are classified as “reportable” by your state or territory’s health department. The same may also be considered “notifiable” by the CDC. 
    • If you test positive for a “reportable" disease, any health care providers, labs, and hospitals involved in your testing will share your personal information with your state or territory’s health department. The information is then used to find the source of an outbreak and control its spread. 
    • If the disease is also considered “notifiable,” your state health department may voluntarily inform the CDC of your case. No personal information will be shared, and the CDC will then use this data to monitor and alert communities or the nation to outbreaks and threats. 
    • Both lists of “reportable” and “notifiable” diseases and conditions often change annually. Currently, syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, chancroid, and HIV are considered reportable in every state. 
  • Parents (if you’re considered a minor in certain states). In many cases, family and friends will only know your STI status if you share it with them. However, as of September 1, 2023, if a child seeks or receives STI services and the state believes it’s in their best interest, 18 states allow health care providers to inform parents. However, only in Iowa is it required that a health care provider informs parents if a minor tests positive for HIV. For policy updates and specifics for your state, check out the Guttmacher Institute’s page on Minors’ Access to STI Services
  • Potential sexual or needle-sharing partners. Ten states have laws requiring people who know they’re HIV-positive to disclose their status to sex partners, and three states have laws for disclosing to needle-sharing partners. For updates on these policies, check out the CDC’s page on HIV and STD Criminalization Laws. Otherwise, a partner could be notified of potential STI exposure by a health care provider who may have a duty to warn. If that happens, your personal information will not be shared. 
  • Employers. Employers generally only know your status if you tell them. However, they do have the right to ask you about health conditions that may impact your work or may pose a serious risk to others. Additionally, if you have employee health insurance, insurance companies can’t legally tell your employer your status. However, your employer may be able to find out if they’re provided detailed information about insurance benefits and costs. 

All that said, there’s unfortunately no centralized source of information containing each state’s STI testing privacy policies. However, you can often find that information online, searching keywords for your state and “STI testing privacy laws.” If that doesn’t work, you may also try contacting your state or territory’s public health office. Additionally, if you do choose to get tested, the CDC’s Get Tested resource is great for locating nearby testing, including free or low-cost options. Lastly, if you’ve tested positive and are looking to tell a partner, consider checking out tips for having the conversation to help you feel more confident going into the discussion. 

Stay safe, 

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Last updated Dec 15, 2023
Originally published Aug 30, 2013

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