June 30, 2011
State health officials are using a new approach to encourage men who have sex with men to get tested for HIV. The Alaska Division of Public Health (DPH), Section of Epidemiology, recently sent notices to Fairbanks-area MSM posting advertisements soliciting casual sex on two websites.
"There has been a recent increase of new HIV cases in your area associated with users of this site. Your health may be at risk," the notice said. The message included information about free rapid HIV testing DPH was offering and concluded, "We strongly encourage you to be tested, even if you were negative recently."
A separate message, sent to recent website visitors from the Fairbanks area, excluded the first two sentences but encouraged HIV testing.
DPH staff members targeted the users because the websites repeatedly came up during investigations of new area HIV diagnoses, said Susan Jones, HIV/STD program manager for the epidemiology department. "There was one new case last year and a couple of new cases this year," she said. "They were all connected [to these sites] so we decided to do this."
"We have a responsibility to help Alaskans stay free of HIV infection," Jones said. This is the first time the state has conducted this sort of outreach, she said.