Chat Rooms Found to Pose Risk for Sexually Transmitted Disease

Article excerpt

The Internet may be becoming like the San Francisco bathhouses of the 1980s - a venue for strangers to meet for sexual purposes, a medical journal says in an editorial today.

The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) editorial is tied to two studies that suggest that people who have sexual intercourse with people they meet through the Internet may be at greater risk for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

The first study found that roughly 10 percent of 856 clients of a Denver HIV clinic had sexual relations with someone they had met on the Internet. Most of the clients sought HIV testing after their liaisons.

The second study showed that syphilis was transmitted among a group of homosexual San Francisco men who met in the same Internet chat room.

These studies suggest that the Internet is a newly emerging risk environment for STDs - a "2000 update" of the San Francisco bathhouses, said a JAMA editorial.

Public health officials addressed the 1980s bathhouse crisis by closing them, but that tactic is "not even a consideration" with the Internet, the editorial said.

Instead, public health officials must learn "how to use the Internet in an ethically defensible way," said Dr. Richard B. Rothenberg, a co-author of the editorial.

"Ethically defensible," he added, means using the Internet to educate high-risk groups and help infected people find those with whom they have had contact, but without undue privacy invasions.

"Clearly, as technology evolves, our social responses to that technology need to keep pace," agreed Dr. Helene Gayle, director of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) National Center for HIV, STD and TB Prevention.

The Denver study, conducted by CDC researcher Mary McFarlane, is based on surveys of 856 clients of the Denver Public Health HIV Counseling and Testing Site. …