Imagine a Facebook app that lets you know if one of your sexual partners may be infected with an STI, or if any of your mates in your social circle may be infected as well.
According to Salon, a group of researchers are hoping to harness the power of social networks as a means to prevent the spread of STIs . Peter Leone, a professor of medicine at the University of North Carolina's Center for Infectious Diseases, believes that these sites with their real-world social networks can be more than beneficial.
Researchers discovered that around 20% of the partners of patients recently diagnosed with HIV tested positive themselves. This also poses an increased risk of infection among sexual partners to their immediate circles of friends, since people in the same social circles may sleep with the same people and engage in similar risk-related behavior. Leone explains:
"When we looked at the networks we could connect many of the cases to sexual encounters, and when we asked who they hung out with, who they knew, we could connect 80 percent of the cases."
People think that you have to be directly connected to someone, and I think of it as a population-level effect," he says. "It would be no different from someone who goes to a picnic and gets food poisoning. We're concerned about everyone that was at that picnic.
Obviously, using a platform such as Facebook to share such intimate and possibly destroying information has it's downsides, since there's no guarantee that it will be limited to just the person's immediate social circle. In the long run, it could make a difference by helping destigmatize STI infection by allowing people to more frank when it comes to discussing their sexual health.