Disease Intervention Specialists

A key player in the public health sexually transmitted infections (STI) or sexually transmitted infection (STI) field is the Disease Intervention Specialist (DIS). There are 23 DIS in South Dakota and 3 field supervisors. DIS are spread out over the state at locations in Aberdeen, Pierre, Mobridge, Mitchell, Rapid City, Sioux Falls, and Watertown. DIS are trained professionals, well-informed about the causes and spread of STIs, skilled in taking sexual histories, identifying, and locating people who may have been exposed to an STI, and know where to refer individuals for evaluation and treatment. DIS provide counseling about behaviors that put an individual at risk for STIs, including HIV infection.

DIS are available to help medical providers locate individuals who have been tested but did not return to get positive test results or treatment. In those cases, they can act as an agent for the medical provider, using their resources and experience to locate these individuals. Once located, these individuals are referred back to the original provider, Health Department office, family planning office, or other clinic for treatment. In addition to individual case follow-up, DIS offer STI education outreach to healthcare providers, community organizations, and the general public.

Disease Intervention Specialists focus on:

  • Providing the affected individual with accurate information about their infection and ways to prevent infection in the future
  • Notifying and locating unaware partners so they can receive confidential and prompt diagnosis and treatment

While many individuals contacted by DIS are less than eager about receiving notification, most are helpful once they understand the importance of receiving treatment for STIs and are assured of the absolute confidentiality of the information they have provided.

Generally, the affected individual and the DIS establish a plan to ensure that all at-risk partners are notified. In some instances, this individual decides to notify and refer their sexual partners on their own. In this case, the DIS provides coaching on how to do this successfully. In other cases, individuals prefer that the DIS inform their partner for them. When DIS notify exposed partners, identifying information about the original person is never disclosed.