Imagine receiving this email: “No one wants to be the bearer of bad news but I got diagnosed with STDs (sexually transmitted diseases) and you might have one too.” This email might be from someone you know, or it could be anonymous. While unpleasant, such a message has tremendous benefit because it notifies you of possible exposure. With such knowledge you can seek early treatment and hopefully avoid having to send such an email yourself. This new service is available through Inspot, a not-for-profit agency funded by the Florida Department of Health.
New options for notifying sex partners couldn’t come at a better time. Last week a CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) report announced that syphilis cases in the US were up a staggering 15.2% over the year before, and worse, gay and bisexual men (including a disproportionate number of African-American men) accounted for a whopping 65% of those cases. These numbers represent an unfortunate continuation of a seven year rising trend in syphilis rates.
Syphilis, untreated, is dangerous enough, but it also increases exposure risk for HIV by causing breaks in the skin, giving these statistics an ominous significance. While there is a simple blood test for syphilis, the symptoms (sores on the genitals or in the mouth) often go undiagnosed and the disease is easily spread. The CDC recommends annual testing for those in a partner relationship, and every six months for others.
Why are these numbers so high for gay and bisexual men?” The CDC speculates that we are suffering from prevention fatigue (certainly true) and being less vigilant with safer sex. Dr. John Douglas, head of STD Prevention for the CDC, also suspects that a rise in serosorting, the practice of choosing sex partners with the same HIV status, plays a role. Such unprotected sex leaves men exposed to other sexually transmitted diseases like syphilis.
I suspect an additional factor: substance abuse, particularly methamphetamine. Meth is the perfect storm for STDs: it increases risky sexual behavior, leads to multiple sexual partners, and eliminates cares about protected sex. The clients I see in the Meth and Men program at Sunserve bear this out: tina, out of control sex, and STDs go together.
No one wants to tell a friend or even a trick that you have exposed them to an STD. And realistically, you may not even know his name or phone number. But chances are that if you hooked up online you can find that profile and send him (or them!) an email that can be anonymous or personalized. In Florida, you can do this knowing that no governmental authority is involved, and that there will be no reporting or follow up by the health department.
Inspot provides six templates with sharp graphics and catchy phrases (“It’s not what you brought to the party, it’s what you left with”). If you wish you can add a personal message. The site also has links for information about sexually transmitted diseases and testing locations.
Getting tested for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases is essential. Most infections occur not because people lie (although some do) but because they don’t know their status. When you get bad news don’t let embarrassment keep you from notifying someone you might have infected. Use these Inspot notification emails to help stop this cycle and keep our community healthy.