Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

Contact tracing

4-minute read

Key facts

  • Contact tracing informs people who may have been infected with a virus, or could be carriers of a virus, that they need to see a doctor.
  • Identifying contacts may prevent you being reinfected by a contact. It can also identify where your infection came from.
  • Contact tracing protects the community from the spread of certain diseases such as sexually transmitted infections (STIs), viruses such as coronavirus (COVID-19) and other diseases such as meningococcal disease.

What is contact tracing?

Contact tracing is a way of slowing the spread of infections by identifying people who have been in contact with an infected person.

If you’re an infected person, your doctor may ask for the details of any people you’ve been in contact with. They can then be tested and treated to help prevent the spread of the condition. Contacts are sometimes offered counselling, as well.

Contact tracing is commonly used to find the contacts of people with sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as HIV and the bacteria that cause tuberculosis and meningococcal disease.

It is currently being used to help identify Australians at risk of coronavirus (COVID-19).

When is contact tracing recommended?

Contact tracing is recommended for people with the following STIs:

It is also recommended for other infectious diseases such as:

Who are your contacts?

The definition of a contact depends on the nature of the disease, and how it is spread.

In the case of STIs, your contacts include anyone you have had any sexual contact with, and regardless of whether the sex was protected or unprotected (if you used a condom, for example).

Your contacts might include:

  • your sexual partners
  • people with whom you shared needles
  • anyone exposed to your blood
  • anyone who came in contact with your blood, saliva, vomit or body fluids
  • people who may have spent a long time with you in a confined space, such as in an office, classroom or plane
  • close relatives or friends who share your household, or have been in your home
  • anyone who has touched you, for example shook your hand
  • people who ate food that you prepared or made food for you

Talk to your doctor if you have any concerns.

Steps in contact tracing

Your doctor or healthcare professional will explain why contacts need to be informed. Often carriers have no symptoms and are unaware that they have a disease.

They will ask you questions about specific contacts, such as the type of contact you had, and over what time period.

You can tell your doctor if you have a preference for how different contacts should be informed.

If you decide to let contacts know personally, you will be given factsheets to give them. The Let Them Know website has examples of simple letters and messages that you can send to your sexual contacts, for example. This service allows you to sign the messages personally or send them anonymously.

You can also ask the doctor or health professional to arrange it. Your doctor or health professional can withhold your name from your contacts, if you wish.

All contacts will be encouraged to visit a doctor or clinic. They are likely to be offered counselling, testing and treatment. For some conditions, such as meningococcal disease, they may be offered vaccinations.

In the case of COVID-19, close contacts of a confirmed case will be asked to self-isolate for 14 days.

The Australian Government has released COVIDSafe - a contract tracing app to help health authorities identify people who may have been in close contact with someone with COVID-19. The app is voluntary and free to use. To learn more, visit

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: April 2020

Back To Top

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Contact tracing for coronavirus (COVID-19): how its done in Queensland | Queensland Health

Information about how contact tracing is performed in Queensland for novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

Read more on Queensland Health website

Update your medicines list now youll need it if you go to hospital - NPS MedicineWise

If you take one or more regular medicines, now is the time to make sure you have an up-to-date list of all the medicines you take

Read more on NPS MedicineWise website

Health & wellbeing in the age of COVID-19 - Women's Health Queensland Inc

Read more on Women's Health Queensland website

Kids' Health - Topics - Mobile phones are great…aren't they?

Mobile phones are a great way to keep in touch with family and friends

Read more on Women's and Children's Health Network website

What is the Opioid Treatment Line (OTL)?

Finding an opioid treatment program in your area: OTL can provide information about public and private treatment services in NSW and ACT

Read more on NSW Health website

Treatment | Play Safe

STI treatment is usually quick and easy, and can be as simple as a course of antibiotics. Read on to find out more about common STI treatments.

Read more on NSW Health website

COVIDSafe app | Australian Government Department of Health

The COVIDSafe app speeds up contacting people exposed to coronavirus (COVID-19). This helps us support and protect you, your friends and family. Please read the content on this page before downloading.

Read more on Department of Health website

Tuberculosis (TB) | Sydney Children's Hospitals Network

What is tuberculosis? Tuberculosis or TB is caused by a bacterium called Mycobacterium tuberculosis

Read more on Sydney Children's Hospitals Network website

Chlamydia -

Chlamydia is a sexually transmitted infection (STI). It affects both men and women, and it's spread by having sex with a person who has the infection.

Read more on myDr website

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) -

Sexually transmitted infections have become more common in Australia in recent years.Its possible for anyone who is sexually active to get an STI, but there are ways you can reduce your risk.

Read more on myDr website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo