Fight Against Syphilis and AIDS Goes Online

A growing number of public health offices in the United States are beginning to register in social networking sites not to find friends, but to broaden their fight against syphilis, AIDS, and other sexually transmitted infections. The latest to open accounts on online meeting sites to battle STD are the public agencies in Ohio.

The health department of Cleveland opened their own account on two sites, while Cincinnati has unveiled plans of online efforts in the coming months. Columbus Public Health, meanwhile, established their presence a year ago on Manhunt, which is a social networking site for gay men. Traditionally, these departments have used letters and telephone calls to set up face-to-face meetings with the partners of infected people who visit their clinics and were tested positive for a sexually transmitted disease.

However with the Internet, such encounters may occur between people who know each other only by their online names. Even with such small amount of information, health officials say that they can go to the site and send a message to the partner of an infected patient, then advise him or her to contact them and provide contact information.

Health officials have high regards on how online notifications have done more good than expected. Daniel Pohl of Howard Brown Health Center in Chicago recalled one client, an escort, whom he invited online for a syphilis testing and was infected. The patient was then treated for the disease, but was too afraid then to get tested for HIV.

Over the next couple of months, the man agreed and was tested positive for HIV at the age of 19. "He not only became very involved with his own care, but also got involved with a program that helps other young people with HIV," Pohl added.

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