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If you've already got an STD, an e-card can't hurt

October 21, 2008 | 10:58 am

"It's not what you brought to the party, it's what you left with ... I left with an STD. You might have, too. Get checked out soon."

"I'm so sorry. I didn't know I had STDs when we were together. You should get tested."

Crass messages? Perhaps. Unwanted? Definitely. But for people already exposed to a sexually transmitted disease, the real damage has been done. So they might as well be told -- even (or perhaps especially) electronically and anonymously. This seems to be the current thinking anyway -- by both senders and, now, by researchers.

In an assessment published today in PLoS Medicine, public health educators analyzed the effects of inSPOT.org, a website launched in 2004, that allows sex partners to be notified by e-card of their possible exposure to an STD and directed to information about that particular disease and about local testing. Only a limited number of cities, including Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego, and states have signed on. But the analysis' authors say the site has unrealized national and international potential.

More than 750 people visit the site daily, and more than 30,000 people have sent more than 49,500 e-cards since the site's launch. The cards contain space for a personal message, though if someone is resorting to an e-card, exercising that option may be moot.

In trying to gauge the effectiveness of the site, the authors looked at disease rates and the rates at which recipients clicked on links connecting them to test-site information. An average of 26.8% of recipients in 2006 and 28.5% in 2007 "clicked-through" to get STD testing information. Not stellar numbers perhaps, but they suggest that at least some people are getting the message.

The authors write:

"While inSPOT was never intended to replace traditional partner notification by public health investigators, it has emerged as a complement to those services."

Of the 23,594 cards sent in 2006 and 2007, 15.4% were for gonorrhea exposure, 14.9% for syphilis, and 9.3% for HIV. A lot -- 48.8% -- were for "other" diseases, such as crabs, scabies and hepatitis.

And in case you were wondering, the researchers add:

"While we prepared for the possibility of misuse of the site by people sending e-cards maliciously, fewer than 10 recipients have reported receiving a card in error."

-- Tami Dennis

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