They call, they search, they show up.
You could call them Health Care Bounty Hunters.
Some area workers go to great lengths to find certain men or women.
“I put about 700 miles a month on my vehicle,” Disease Intervention Specialist Aimee Dickenson said.
Aimee Dickenson spends a lot of time in the car. She's not a salesperson or taxi driver, but she is a delivery person, of sorts.
“I'm just here to make sure that everybody is healthy and remains so,” Dickenson said.
Dickenson is a disease intervention specialist or D-I-S.
She works for the health department. As a D-I-S, she makes sure people who test positive for Sexually Transmitted Diseases get treated, but she must also track down their partners. Sometimes it's as easy as a click of a mouse and a computer search.
“They either don't answer the phone calls. They don't answer the letters I send. They don't answer the door. Eventually I catch up with them,” Dickenson said.
Her job is a cross between a detective and private investigator, tracking the path of HIV, Syphilis, Gonorrhea and Chlamydia. It requires determination and persistence.
“Basically we ask general height descriptions, weight, tattoos or anything that would make that person stand out,” Dickenson said. “I always ask: Where do they work? Where do they hang out? Who do they hang out with? Where do they go to school?”
According to the health department, throughout Southwest Virginia the number of Chlamydia and HIV cases have held steady. But, Syphilis and Gonorrhea are on the rise.
That's why Health Director Dr. Molly O'Dell of the New River Health district says what Dickenson does, is so important.
“And the way sexually transmitted diseases are transmitted so fast that we have to stay one step ahead of partner sharing diseases in order to keep it under control,” O'Dell said.
Dickenson is one of 42 D-I-Ss in the Commonwealth.
She covers from Montgomery County to Bristol.
Dickenson estimates she has anywhere from 15 to 20 cases a month, plus those people's contacts.
It's tough, but rewarding work.
“They have to understand we're not the sex police,” Dickenson said. “We're not going to try to get anybody in trouble. We're basically trying to make everybody as healthy as possible and keep them healthy.”
Dickenson says on average most of her cases are closed within a month. She says education is the key to prevention.
Chlamydia, Syphilis and Gonorrhea can all be cured, but have serious side-effects if they're left untreated.
As for HIV, there's still no cure for the virus, but it's not the death sentence it once was.