A newly released report finds 30,000 people have sent 50,000 e-cards using an Internet service that allows them to notify their sex partners that they may have been infected with HIV, syphilis, Chlamydia or other sexually transmitted diseases (STD).
Traditionally, notifying a partner of potential disease risk has been done in person, by phone, or by mail, with the assistance of a public health investigator.
“inSPOT is an effective way to allow people to communicate with their sex partners,” said Dr. Jeffrey Klausner, director of STD prevention and control services at the San Francisco Department of Health.
In the United States there are 19 million new STD cases diagnosed each year.
The report found, 15 percent of the e-cards sent in 2006 and 2007 warned recipients of gonorrhea. The percentages for other diseases were syphilis (15%), Chlamydia (12%) and HIV (9%). Almost half of the cards warned of other diseases which include hepatitis and crabs.
Originally created in San Francisco in 2004, the inSPOT service is now available in many states including Idaho, New York and Washington and has the potential to become a resource both nationally and internationally.
“We know the service works,” Klausner said. “Patients say they received notification [about having an STD], through inSPOT."
The inSPOT service was born following a survey of gay men conducted by the San Francisco Department of Health and a non-profit group in 2004 that found most of them did not inform casual sex partners of an STD diagnosis.
But, the report also found the men “overwhelmingly agreed that if there was an easy to use, anonymous service that allowed them to contact their sex partners about potential exposure, they would likely use it.”
While the service originally targeted gay men, it opened to all audiences in 2006 after ISIS conducted six focus groups that agreed the service would benefit heterosexual individuals just as much.
Upon visiting the website, visitors can use a form to specify the disease the person may potentially be exposed to and then submit the e-mail address of a sex partner to send the e-card too.
Senders can include their name or remain anonymous. They can choose from one of six available e-cards with different images. One e-card says “Got Laid. Was Happy.” “Got Tested. Wasn’t Healthy.”
The recipient than receives an e-mail with the subject line, “You have received an E-card from a concerned friend re: your health via inSPOT.” When an e-card is clicked on by the recipient, users are linked to a page with disease-specific information.
“The true measure of this approach, or any other, including traditional methods, is their effect on transmission,” said Dr. Richard Rothenberg, a professor at Georgia State University’s Institute of Public Health. However, due to the confidential nature of the service, it may prove difficult, if not entirely impossible to determine the impact on health, Rothenberg said.
The study, “inSPOT: The First Online STD Partner Notification System Using Electronic Postcards” is published in the October 21 issue of PLoS Medicine. #