Tuesday, January 20, 2009

NYT: After Hookups, E-Cards That Warn, ‘Get Checked’

via New York Times

Steve, a health care worker in his 30s, had been told more than once that he had been exposed to a sexually transmitted infection. So when it happened again, he was not upset — even though this time he learned about it through an anonymous online postcard, e-mailed by a man with whom he had had sex.

“What was important was that I was being notified that there was a possibility that I may have been exposed to syphilis,” said Steve, who asked that his last name be withheld to protect his privacy.

The Internet has made it much easier to connect for sexual hookups. In response, public health officials have been exploring ways to harness the online world for conducting safe-sex education and preventing the spread of sexually transmitted diseases by alerting people exposed to them.

The e-card, which allows the sender to select the disease involved and includes links to public health sites and services, is part of that strategy.

“Notifying the person exposed to a sexually transmitted infection is the critical piece in preventing further spread,” said Dr. Susan Blank, New York City’s assistant health commissioner for sexually transmitted disease. “And as the reach of the Internet expands for use in finding instant sex partners, we’re using that technology as part of the solution.”

Along with eight other cities and three states, New York City has been working with inSPOT, the online partner notification system through which Steve, in San Francisco, received his syphilis e-card. (It is currently aimed at gay men but is expanding its audience to include heterosexuals, and plans to start a national site this year.)

The system was developed in 2004 by Internet Sexuality Information Services, a nonprofit agency in Oakland, Calif., with the support of health officials in San Francisco. Deb Levine, the agency’s executive director, said two factors in San Francisco led to the idea: the rise in Internet use among men who have sex with men, and an increase in syphilis among that group.

Research indicated that men with a sexually transmitted disease often failed to tell their casual sexual contacts about it.

“They did tell their partners, the people they saw every day, but they didn’t take the time to follow up with other people they were having sex with,” Ms. Levine said. “They said to us, ‘If there was an easy and convenient way to do it, we would.’ ”

Read the rest.

Check out inSPOT Chicago.

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