Local and Community News
San Francisco Turns to Computers to Curb Rise in Syphilis
June 19, 2003
Aiming to stem an alarming rise in syphilis, San Francisco health officials are turning to the place where they say many infected residents meet their sexual partners: the Internet. The Department of Public Health this week launched a Web site, www.stdtest.org, where people who think they may have contracted syphilis can order confidential tests and print out laboratory slips containing personal identification numbers (PIN) instead of their names. Once the patients have their blood drawn at a participating lab, their results will be posted online, which they can access with their nine-digit PIN.
"Nearly 40 percent of recent syphilis cases met their sex partners online," said Dr. Jeffrey Klausner, director of the department's STD unit. "Now, we can offer these same Internet users a free convenient way to access STD testing via the Web."
While the new site affords users an important measure of privacy, it is not strictly anonymous, cautioned Deb Levine of the educational group Internet Sexuality Information Services. Via personal information visitors must enter before obtaining their PIN, those who test positive for syphilis will be contacted by the health department for mandatory counseling and follow-up, Levine said.
Last year, there were 595 new cases of syphilis in San Francisco, nearly double the number from the year before, and two-thirds of them were found in HIV-positive men, raising fears that the syphilis epidemic presages a resurgence in HIV transmission. Only 47 syphilis infections were reported in 1997.
The city is hoping to stem the increase by having most HIV-positive residents routinely tested for syphilis. Klausner said the new site will be promoted at gay-oriented Web sites, through advertisements on buses, and with outreach at sex clubs and adult bookstores.
06.19.03; Lisa Leff
This article was provided by U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update. Visit the CDC's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.