August 7, 2012
Public health officials are harnessing social media as a way to get information about HIV and other STDs to a wired generation.
"That's the way people connect and communicate," said Peter Carr, manager of the Minnesota Department of Health's STD and HIV Section. "We need to be in touch with that."
Tools like YouTube and Google+ can reach large audiences with testing, symptom, and prevention information. Facebook and Twitter can be accessed by people without computers on their mobile devices, noted Tina Hoff, a spokesperson for the Kaiser Family Foundation.
"When something goes viral, you've reached millions of people in a day," said Simon Rosser, a University of Minnesota researcher who presented research on social media at the 19th International AIDS Conference.
While experts acknowledge the tools cannot replace personal interaction with a doctor or trained educator, social media can reach those who lack access to health care due to geographic, financial or cultural barriers. Information sent through social media also can be highly tailored.
The state health department is accepting grant applications for community programs that use social media, and the Minnesota AIDS Project already uses social media to promote the availability of its safe-sex kits. CDC has a Spanish-language Twitter handle -- @CDCEspanol -- with nearly 25,000 followers.