October 23, 2008 / 4:22 PM / 10 years ago

"E-cards" may aid in STD notification

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Electronic “postcards” may offer a new way to alert the partners of patients with sexually transmitted diseases that they may have been exposed, according to a new report.

Partner notification has long been a cornerstone of controlling the spread of STDs like gonorrhea, chlamydia and HIV. Traditionally, it’s been done over the phone, by mail or in person, with the help of a public health worker.

In some cities, however, high numbers of STD-infected patients, many of whom have had multiple sexual partners, make it difficult to track down all the individuals who are at risk.

In 2004, a San Francisco-area non-profit called Internet Sexuality Information Services (ISIS) developed an Internet-based program to aid in partner notification. Called inSPOT, the service uses “e-cards” to help STD patients reach their partners.

Web site users choose one of six e-cards, type in recipients’ email addresses and either send the postcard anonymously or include their own email addresses. The e-cards alert recipients that they might have been exposed to an STD, and also provide them with links to STD information and a map of clinics where they can be tested.

Early data, published in the online journal PLoS Medicine, indicate that the service is proving useful.

The program began in San Francisco, where it was targeted toward gay and bisexual men, but has since expanded to more than a dozen U.S. states. Since 2004, more than 30,000 people have sent nearly 50,000 e-cards to their sexual partners.

The percentage of recipients who click on the e-card links varies by city, according to the PloS report — ranging from 20 percent in Los Angeles to a high of nearly 50 percent in Idaho.

The results suggest that inSPOT represents “one more tool in the toolkit” to cut STD transmission rates, study co-author Deb Levine, the executive director of ISIS, told Reuters Health.

“E-cards do not replace in-person communication,” she said, “but for those people who are diagnosed with an STD, e-cards can enhance sexual communication and help with community responsibility and easing a process of disclosure that can be extremely difficult.”

Still unknown is the percentage of e-card recipients who ultimately seek STD testing. Levine said she and her colleagues are now seeking funding to study the full impact of inSPOT nationally.

SOURCE: PLoS Medicine, October 20, 2008.

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