A service called InSPOT, which allows people who’ve been infected with a sexually-transmitted disease to anonymously alert their sex partners by e-card has been expanded recently. It’s available in eight major cities and three states and is currently focused on allowing gays and lesbians infected with syphilis, which has been on the rise in recent years.
“The system was developed in 2004 by Internet Sexuality Information Services, a nonprofit agency in Oakland, Calif., with the support of health officials in San Francisco. Deb Levine, the agency’s executive director, said two factors in San Francisco led to the idea: the rise in Internet use among men who have sex with men, and an increase in syphilis among that group.
Research indicated that men with a sexually transmitted disease often failed to tell their casual sexual contacts about it.
“They did tell their partners, the people they saw every day, but they didn’t take the time to follow up with other people they were having sex with,” Ms. Levine said. “They said to us, ‘If there was an easy and convenient way to do it, we would.'”
In a parallel strategy, some public health departments have established online profiles on popular gay-oriented social network sites.
Through these profiles, self-identified health outreach workers are available to counsel men about safe sex and, when requested by members with a sexually transmitted disease, to electronically notify sexual partners they have met through the site.
David S. Novak, a public health strategist at Online Buddies, a company in Cambridge, Mass., said almost 30 city and state health agencies now had partner notification profiles on its popular gay site, manhunt.net.
Mr. Novak said that men who met on a social networking site often did not exchange e-mail addresses and therefore could not use inSPOT. Moreover, he said, because public health agencies confirm cases of infection before contacting sexual partners, their involvement reduces the risk that false information will be disseminated. “I think there’s room for both approaches,” he said.”