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Online-mediated syphilis testing shows promise
NEW YORK |
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - The results of a study suggest that online-mediated syphilis testing is helpful in detecting syphilis in gay men.
The Internet has "emerged as a medium where people can find information on sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) or any other medical topic," Rik H. Koekenbier, of GGD Amsterdam, the Netherlands, noted in an interview with Reuters Health. "With interventions like ours, men can take direct action to address their health concerns and in this way participate in their own wellness."
Between 1998 and 2004, the annual number of infectious syphilis cases in Amsterdam increased from 35 to 240, Koekenbier and colleagues point out in the journal Sexually Transmitted Diseases. In 2004, most of the new infections (84 percent) were in men who have sex with men.
To respond to the current epidemic of syphilis among gay men, the investigators developed a web site that supplied information about the disease and motivated users to download a referral letter for a syphilis test. The participants could retrieve their results online 1 week after the blood test.
Koekenbier's team compared data from the web site with data obtained from the Amsterdam sexually transmitted infection (STI) clinic.
Over 15 months, a total of 898 visitors downloaded referral letters. Of these, 93 men (10 percent) got tested. Ninety of 93 (96 percent) obtained their results from the web site.
Overall, 14 of the 93 men tested (15 percent) had a positive test. Of these, four did not confirm their test results at the STI clinic. Of the 10 positive men who did visit the STI clinic, 3 (33 percent) had never attended the clinic before.
Significantly more men who needed syphilis treatment were identified through the web site compared with the STI clinic: 50 percent online versus 25 percent at a STI clinic.
"The Internet seems efficient for programs that target a specific population," Koekenbier said. "In this time where people receive and process information from different technical platforms such as mail, chat, and Web sites, it becomes more important to be exposed on all these platforms," he explained.
"The more people come in contact with online public health interventions the better our chances are of improving the health of the population," Koekenbier said.
SOURCE: Sexually Transmitted Diseases, August 2008.
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