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Social media use can encourage STD testing

Category: Infectious Diseases

Researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles have found that using social media can be a strong tool to encourage people at risk for sexually transmitted diseases to get STD tests. While the study only involved those diagnosed with the human immunodeficiency virus, similar programs may also be effective for other STDs.

Using social media to combat STDs
For the study, UCLA recruited 112 sexually active men and assigned them a discussion group on the social networking website Facebook. Half of the men were given a group specifically about STD testing and awareness, while the other half was linked to a board about general health.

The study found that nearly half of the men in the STD testing group requested STD testing kits, while only 20 percent of the control group did. The men in the STD testing group were also much more active in their Facebook group than the control group members were, according to a press release from the school.

"Internet HIV-prevention interventions and mobile health applications have had very high dropout rates and problems getting people engaged, and this effect is even more pronounced among high-risk groups such as minority populations and men who have sex with men. However, our approach appeared to overcome these issues and led to changed behavior," said Sean D. Young, an assistant professor of family medicine and director of innovation at the Center for Behavior and Addiction Medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the university, one of the authors of the study.

STD rates and the Internet
Although the test was generally focused on HIV among men, the authors of the study believed that this technique could be used for both men and women for a variety of diseases.

"We have created a potential paradigm for health behavior change using new social technologies. We are beginning to explore this approach in other areas," said the same author.

According to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are millions of STD cases across the country. In addition to many HIV cases, some of which go undiagnosed, there were more than a million cases of chlamydia in 2011. In the same year, there were more than 300,000 gonorrhea cases and more than 14,000 syphilis cases altogether.

Both chlamydia and gonorrhea grew several percentage points between 2010 and 2011. These diseases can sometimes not show symptoms, so a lab test online can reveal the status of a user who wishes to remain anonymous.

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