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Sexual health and facebook

Sexual health and facebook

What is social media not doing these days? It’s now hoped that Facebook will help us target key audiences when it comes to STIs and more specifically encouraging STD testing or visiting the GUM clinic.

Since we all have so many mutual friends and shared groups, it’s a great way of targeting a group that maybe susceptible to contracting an STI based on the infected people they hang around with. This is the theory but we find it difficult to understand how it could work.


The idea was spurred on by an older study in which the sexual partners of those who had most recently tested positive for HIV were tested and it was found that 20% of them also tested positive for HIV. It is thought that those who move in the same circles will have sexual partners in common. Facebook is a great way of targeting all of these partners at once. We then would not be looking directly at the person who has been infected and at whom they have infected but focusing on the likely journey that the spread took, the virtual network mirroring the real-life social network.

An outbreak of syphilis in the States captured the attention of the study’s author, a professor from the University of California, some years ago and by simply asking those infected who they spent their time with, or even who they knew, the team were able to use this information to draw a connection between 80% of the cases reported! They were then able to get out there and get people taking STD home tests and taking chlamydia tests and started the ball rolling. This might not be so easy or discrete using Facebook apps and the like but we are dying to know more about it.

The professor has already designed an app that can sift through data and predict who is likely to catch the flu and when. An app that predicts someone’s risk of developing an STI seems much more difficult to create in terms of legal issues and data protection especially on a topic as sensitive as STIs and sexual health but it might be something we will see in the future.

At least this will be another way of drawing attention to the chlamydia test and to the importance of attending the GUM clinic each time one changes partners. At a time when 19 million new cases of STIs are reported every year, efforts like these are welcomed despite how out there they seem to be. Considering that 15 to 24 year olds represent half of this figure, Facebook is definitely a wise choice of social networks to get involved with.

It may be a while yet before they have worked out how to use the social networking site to contact groups at risk to warn them they might be infected but the media buzz about the idea is enough to keep us happy for now since awareness is the key.

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