Academic journal article Bulletin of the World Health Organization

Use of the Internet as a Public Health Intervention Tool for an Outbreak of Syphilis

Academic journal article Bulletin of the World Health Organization

Use of the Internet as a Public Health Intervention Tool for an Outbreak of Syphilis

Article excerpt

A recent study of a syphilis outbreak amongst homosexual men in San Francisco showed a significant association between the use of the Internet as a means for meeting sexual partners and acquiring syphilis (Journal of the American Medical Association, 2000, 284: 447-449). In a case-control study, infected individuals were almost four times as likely to have met their sexual partners in an Internet chat room, an electronic forum which allows the exchange of messages via computer, compared to a non-infected control group of homosexual men who presented to a clinic.

The study highlights some important points that need to be considered for public health interventions amongst risk groups with access to the Internet. Since the outbreak occurred amongst homosexual men who met their partners through a chat room partner information was in most cases limited to fictitious "screen names". For potential legal and privacy reasons, the Internet Service Provider refused to release the names of the individuals using the chat room without a legal order. To circumvent this, an awareness campaign was initiated with the cooperation of the Internet Service Provider.

For two weeks, a San Francisco marketing firm accessed the chat room by sending electronic messages giving advice to persons with sexual contacts to seek medical evaluation. …

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