Public Health Officials Consider Legal Action to Force AOL, Web Sites to Warn MSM About Syphilis Outbreaks
January 23, 2004
Public health officials are considering filing a lawsuit to force Internet service provider America Online and some Web sites to warn members about outbreaks of sexually transmitted diseases among the men who have sex with men who use their services to find sex partners, Wired News reports. A report released last month found that 44% of recently diagnosed syphilis cases in San Francisco were linked to the Internet, compared with 13% in 2000. Similar statistics are not available for HIV/AIDS because the disease has a longer incubation period, but many men diagnosed with syphilis are HIV-positive, Wired News reports. Health officials more than two years ago began requesting that some Web sites warn users about STDs after they detected an increase in syphilis cases nationwide (Dotinga, Wired News, 1/22). In 1999, when San Francisco officials traced a rise in the number of syphilis cases to seven men who had used an AOL chat room to meet partners, Dr. Jeffrey Klausner, head of the city's STD control division, tried to use the Internet to alert potential partners to the risk and urge them to be tested. He asked AOL to post syphilis warnings in its San Francisco chat rooms but was turned down. Instead, the company offered his staff free AOL accounts so they could log in and disseminate information about the diseases. According to Klausner, fewer than half of the seven men's partners were notified and tested, illustrating difficulties of practicing prevention and partner notification with people who meet over the Internet. Many Internet encounters are often anonymous, with partners only knowing each other by their screen names, which can change daily, and many Internet service providers will not release the names of customers without a court order (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 7/26/02).
This article was provided by Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. It is a part of the publication Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report. Visit the Kaiser Family Foundation's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.