The Pennsylvania Department of Health has begun testing an online partner notification system. The online system is designed to send anonymous “e-card” messages to persons who may have been exposed to a sexually transmitted disease. “The way it works,” explains Raymond Yeo, a University of Pittsburgh consultant involved in creating the system, “is that if I were to test positive for Syphilis or HIV, for example, I would go online with a Department of Health representative and send email messages to all the people I’ve had sex with.” Yeo works for Pitt’s Graduate School of Public Health as an online sexual health educator. “The internet has become a major venue for finding sexual partners,” Yeo went on to explain, “so the Pennsylvania Department of Health needed to create a method of contacting people who may have been exposed to sexually transmitted diseases when the only contact information they have is an email address or chat room username.”
The e-card message informs recipients that a person they’ve hooked up with (for sex) tested positive for an undisclosed sexually transmitted disease and encourages him or her to also get tested. Messages also contain a unique identification number that medical providers and clinics can use to determine what infection they should test for. This number is also reported back to the Department of Health for the purpose of tracking state-wide outbreaks.
“If you receive an e-card from the Pennsylvania Department of Health, telling you that you’ve been exposed to a sexually transmitted disease, you can take it seriously because the system is controlled by the Health Department staff…which pretty much eliminates the possibility of it being a hoax or a spam message,” Yeo added. “It’s important that this system succeeds in what it was designed to do. Folks who are hooking up on the Internet for sex are getting infected at higher rates than folks who don’t…and if we don’t find a way to contact them, and they don’t get tested, it will only lead to bigger health problems for our community.”
People who have been exposed to a sexually transmitted disease, in cases where additional contact information is available (such as a phone number or mailing address), are contacted via traditional methods. For more information about the Pennsylvania Health Department Online Notification System, you can contact Mr. Yeo at the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public Health by calling (412) 383-2940 . You can also go to the Partner Notification Website at pastatehealth.org.