You've got mail!
New electronic 'greeting cards' will notify sex partners of people with sexually transmitted infections
It's not an online greeting card you want to see in your inbox. That is, until, you realize the implications. The electronic "greeting" cards are for people with sexually transmitted infections (STIs) who wish to notify their sex partners that they should get tested.
The cards, which can be sent anonymously to up to six partners at a time, direct recipients to a link telling them where they can get tested and treated. The ecard service, called inSPOT (Internet notification service for partners or tricks) has just been launched by the BC Centre for Disease Control.
Dr. Mark Gilbert, a physician epidemiologist at BCCDC, said the service is meant to reduce the number of STIs in B.C. by encouraging people to seek treatment if they have contracted an infection from someone. It's another tool people can use to notify their partners if they know their email addresses. If they don't, newly diagnosed people can contact their partners directly or enlist the help of public health nurses and family doctors in the notification process.
Not all people with an STI have symptoms or know they are infected, so they may not seek medical care. That's one reason the BCCDC does not have complete counts of STI cases. Nevertheless, it says that in 2010, it had reports of 11,838 chlamydia cases, 1,321 gonorrhea cases, 155 syphilis cases and 301 HIV cases. There are thousands more cases of STIs like herpes and genital warts, but they are not reportable to the BCCDC.
The STI epostcard service began in San Francisco seven years ago, initially in the gay community. The creators of the service - a sex educator and a public health doctor - realized that online encounters were leading to casual sex hookups which were, in turn, fuelling syphilis cases. So they created the email notification system.
Gilbert said B.C. is the second province in Canada to introduce the service, which already operates in Ottawa and Toronto.
An article published in PLoS Medicine about an assessment of inSPOT showed that users found it to be easy and convenient. The men in the 2008 study liked the fact that it was an anonymous way to inform their partners of their potential disease exposure. Very few people were sent ecards maliciously.
Besides infections like chlaydia, other STIs for which notices were sent included crabs, scabies, and hepatitis A, B and C. There was no data on the proportion of website users who chose to access STI testing after getting an ecard notice. Nor was there any data showing how many users of the site actually got a diagnosis.
Gilbert said the cost to BCCDC of setting up the service was about $20,000 and the continuing costs will be about $2,000 a year.
For more information about the new service, go to www. bccdc.ca/inspot or www.inspot. org