Harnessing the Power of Internet: E-Card Warns, "Get Checked"
Public health officials have looked for ways to utilize the internet to conduct safe-sex education and prevent the spread of sexually transmitted disease, and inSpot, an on-line service that allows a sender to notify an individual that there is a possibility that the recipient may have been exposed to a sexually transmitted disease (STD) is part of that strategy.
Currently aimed at gay men, inSpot was developed in 2004 by Internet Sexuality Information Services, with the support of health in officials in San Franciso.
“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.’ ”
In a parallel strategy, some public health departments have established online profiles on popular gay-oriented social network sites.
Through these profiles, self-identified health outreach workers are available to counsel men about safe sex and, when requested by members with a sexually transmitted disease, to electronically notify sexual partners they have met through the site.
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