State and county health departments in Utah are expanding programs aimed at notifying people who have been exposed to AIDS victims and who thus may be at risk for contracting the disease.

State epidemiologist Craig R. Nichols said the Utah Department of Health recently received state and federal money to initiate the new program, which will notify those who may have contracted the virus through drug use or sexual contact with identified carriers. The program is expected to cost the state health department at least $120,000 per year.The name of the person who exposed them will always remain confidential.

Salt Lake and Weber counties will administer their own programs.

Appointment of the five state employees who will handle the partner notification will be announced in the next couple of weeks. But Nichols said they will need intensive training before they are skilled enough to go out into the field.

Most of the partners' names will be provided by the infected individuals, but Nichols said the health department will use other sources in locating people who might have been exposed to the disease. Information will be gathered from AIDS testing and counseling sites, and through private physicians who are willing to let the state be involved in the notification process.

"Based on studies of other states, we think we will get a much better yield in locating infected individuals than just general broad screening," Nichols said.

He also noted that anywhere from 11 to 50 percent of partners who have been tested in other states were found either to have AIDS or be infected with the human immunodeficiency virus, a precursor to AIDS.

The new program is a move by health departments to treat AIDS more like other reportable sexually transmitted diseases such as gonorrhea or syphilis.

The problem for health providers is once they tell a person he has AIDS, they can't offer a cure for the disease that carries with it a death sentence.

The most common victims are homosexual males and intravenous drug users who share needles.

Nichols said most of those contacted will likely be sexual partners, because drug users rarely submit to testing. "We simply don't have a lot of experience with drug users," he said.

But mandatory testing for AIDS has generated much discussion in Utah, and a bill proposing it is likely to come before the Legislature next session.

As of July 1, Utah had 134 reported cases of AIDS, resulting in 83 deaths.

At the end of 1987, Salt Lake County had 84 percent of the state's AIDS cases; Weber and Utah counties had 4 percent each; Davis County, 3 percent, and the remaining 5 percent was distributed throughout the state, Nichols said.

Nationwide, there have been 65,099 reported cases of AIDS and 36,874 deaths.