An e-postcard service to notify sexual partners of STDs

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An e-postcard service to notify sexual partners of STDs

Need to notify an estranged sexual partner of a recently discovered sexually transmitted disease (STD)? Why not send an electronic postcard.

It may not be the most personal method of breaking bad news, but experts expect inSPOT’s electronic notification service to bridge a dangerous gap in communicating the risk of STDs.

“Ideally, it would be best to have a face-to-face conversation in the afternoon, in a sober setting,” said Jeffery D. Klausner, who is the Director of STD Prevention and Control Services at the San Francisco Department of Public Health.

“But -- at least in the U.S. -- we've done such a poor job at educating people about sexual health that these types of conversations may be seen as too sensitive, embarrassing or uncomfortable to go through with.”

“It’s definitely better to be notified so you can get treated,” he said.

With a team of public health experts in California, Klausner launched inSPOT in 2004 as a free online STD notification service for gay men in San Francisco.

Run by Internet Sexuality Information Services (ISIS), the service initially targeted HIV and syphilis, which is a treatable STD most commonly found in men who have sex with other men.

During the past year, the service has expanded to target Gonorrhoea, Chlamydia, Herpes, Genital Warts and Scabies and cater to heterosexual people in a variety of states and countries.

“The Internet has become a new way to talk to partners,” Klausner said. “Most cases [of partners who spread infection to each other] had met online.”

“Online notification makes it easy and simple, and provides all the important information right there at their [users’] fingertips,” he told iTnews.

inSPOT is one digitally enabled tool within a suite of three that was launched by ISIS to increase sexual health awareness. The two other services focus on online health education and the provision of STD testing.

For inSPOT, ISIS collaborates with supported cities or states to identify relevant public health resources, such as information providers or testing services, in the vicinity.

Links to these resources are included in each e-postcard to make it convenient for those being notified of a potential STD to take action.

E-postcards are sent via inSPOT’s Web site, which invites users to select a design, select the relevant STD from a drop-down menu, and include a personal comment if desired.

Users can choose to include a return e-mail address or send the card anonymously. Klausner noted that 70 percent of cards currently are sent anonymously.

While the risk of being used for spam and being targeted by spam filters is a concern, Klausner said inSPOT has introduced anti-spam measures such as requiring a human verification code to be entered with every use.

One-fifth of recipients have been found to click through links on the e-postcards, and some recipients have contacted ISIS to be tested for infection, he said.

While inSPOT does not offer geographically-relevant information to Australian users currently, Klausner said the service would launch down under ‘without a doubt, if there was a request’.

“There was an increased demand as we were getting requests to provide the service outside of San Francisco,” he said of inSPOT’s recent expansion to Canada and Romania.

“We want to provide the service to the entire population at risk,” he said.
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