When an individual tests positive for HIV/AIDS or syphilis in Harrison County, Mississippi, there are four workers for the state’s lower six counties, who are charged with finding and notifying partners so that they can get tested and, it is hoped, prevent the disease from spreading further. The local disease intervention supervisors (DIS) handle only HIV/AIDS and syphilis cases and deal with about 60 cases per year. People’s reactions to the news is often unpredictable. It can be tough news to break to some individuals, as local DIS must let them know that they have been exposed and need to be tested. In some instances, people can react violently.
In other cases, it can be a challenge to find all of a patient’s sexual partners. Many individuals have been infected after sexual encounters with strangers whom they met online through social networking sites or online classifieds. Some individuals set up meetings using no-contract cell phones, which have since been disconnected by the time the health department becomes involved in the case. The DIS rely on police records, post office information, online searches, hospital information, and other types of records to assist them in tracking down individuals. According to DIS Jill Mitchell, they are usually successful. She notes that out of 320 individuals that health workers tracked in 2011, they failed to find fewer than 10.
Since the state of Mississippi has the highest rate of teen pregnancy in the nation, and 76 percent of high school students say that they have had sex by the end of 12th grade, the agency also provides school districts with education programs that teach abstinence-plus. Mississippi is one of the top 10 states for sexually transmitted diseases per capita. According to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2010 survey, the state has the highest rate for gonorrhea, the second highest rate for chlamydia, and the third highest rate for syphilis in the nation.