How technology is helping to prevent STDs
Sexually transmitted diseases have long been an underestimated opponent in America’s public health battle. A 1997 Institute of Medicine report once described STDs as “Hidden epidemics of tremendous health and economic consequence in the United States. The scope, impact, and consequences of STDs are under-recognized by the public and healthcare professionals.” Two decades later, that sentiment remains the same, and the epidemic has grown by significant proportions.
In 2017, reported STDs in the United States reached record highs. Many cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis continue to go undiagnosed and unreported. Others, such as human papillomavirus and herpes simplex virus are not reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, meaning that national data captures only a small snapshot of the true scope of America’s STD epidemic. Still, recent data from the CDC indicate that there were 2,295,739 total cases in the United States last year, and that number is continuing to climb.
At the same time, innovators in the technology sector have begun to develop innovative ways that help to promote education, early detection, and prevention.
Google Releases Data to Help Monitor STD Rates Based on Location
One such innovation comes at the hands of Google, who has recently allowed access to search term data to four major academic institutions in an effort to aid studies that track the spread of infections in real-time simply by monitoring commonly searched terms by geolocation.
In essence, if people in a certain metropolitan area are searching terms such as “painful urination” at the same time that more cases of chlamydia or gonorrhea are being diagnosed, public health officials can safely deduce that there is an outbreak moving through a particular area. From there, they can be more diligent in addressing the issue to prevent further spread.
Apps Allow Users to Share Their Verified Test Results
Dating today can be an uncomfortable and difficult process, especially if you’re involved in the online dating world. No matter how careful you are, dating complete strangers can be a risk, but new technologies allow users to disclose their most recent STD test results and share them with any potential partners.
The website, Qpid.me, helps anyone over the age of 13 request their STD results from their doctor or clinic, and allows them to share with a potential partner via text message or an emailed link.
“We’ve generally been taught to keep this information very private, and this represents a paradigm shift,” site founder and CEO Ramin Bastani told Huffington Post. “We think the shareability of that information–verified information–is absolutely critical,” he continued.
Once users go through the registration process, Qpid creates a records request that is e-faxed to your doctor. When results are returned, users are able to share a one-time use link with anyone they choose. The report shares results for HIV, gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis, hepatitis C. HPV and herpes statuses are not included.
“People have a right to that information,” says Dr. Jeffrey Klausner, a professor of medicine and public health at UCLA who serves as a medical advisor for Qpid, later adding that “anything that promotes more conversation, more dialogues, and more transparency in sexuality is a good thing.”
New Technologies Help LGBTQ Men Prevent STD Transmission
Annual HIV infections and diagnoses are declining in the United States, largely due to targeted HIV prevention efforts that have been made since the 1980s. However, progress has been uneven in certain demographics, and for some groups, HIV infection rates have increased.
Gay and bisexual men are the populations that are most likely to be affected by HIV. According to the CDC, in 2016 gay and bisexual men accounted for 67 percent of all HIV diagnoses and 83 percent of diagnoses among males. Additionally, black gay and bisexual men accounted for the largest number of HIV diagnoses (10,233), followed by Hispanic/Latino gay and bisexual men (7,425), and white gay and bisexual men (7,390).
According to ongoing pilot studies by the CDC, new technology has the potential to give men who have sex with other men (MSM) additional ways to assess their health status, prevent HIV and other STDs, and find care.
One such application is called HealthMindr, which helps MSM track their sexual habits and remain healthy. Through the application, men can order condoms and HIV test kits, receive suggestions on HIV testing based on their sexual habits, find out if they’re a candidate for PrEP and where they can get it.
“We have better tools now than ever before to reduce HIV infections in our community,” says Patrick Sullivan, a lead researcher on the project. “We believe that there’s an important role for an app that gives men some personalized feedback about what services might be right for them, and helps connect them to places that provide those services.”
Though the service is only available in Seattle and Atlanta for the time being, it’s a necessary first step to helping decrease sexually transmitted infections in the gay community.
Livestream Platforms Can Help Adolescents Learn What Schools Didn’t Teach in Sex Ed
Unprotected sex has become more and more common among today’s adolescents, which makes them far more susceptible to contract STDs. The problem becomes exacerbated by social conditions that disproportionately affect certain minority groups. Adolescents who live in poverty, lack access to quality education, or are involved in the criminal justice system are far more likely to contract STDs.
Many argue that the problem could be solved with proper sex education. Unfortunately, formal sex education in the United States is overall lacking. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 80 percent of adolescents ages 15-19 were taught in schools or their churches about STDs and abstinence education, but only 55 percent of adolescent boys and 60 percent of adolescent girls received any kind of formal instruction about methods of birth control.
In 2015, the CDC announced that in most states, fewer than half of high schools and a mere one in five middle schools teach all of the topics that are recommended by the CDC.
“Sex education is essential to adolescents’ overall health and well-being,” writes Leslie Kantor, Ph.D, MPH, who works as the Vice President of Education at the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “The fact that young people in so many states are being deprived of information critical to their sexual health is unacceptable. More than 90% of parents support sex education that covers a wide range of topics in both high school and middle school.”
Not only do many adolescents not receive adequate sex education, but a majority of sex education is devoid of any information outside of heterosexual monogamy — leaving many LGBTQ+ students out of the equation altogether. In fact, less than 5 percent of students received LGBTQ+ inclusive sex education, and a mere 12 percent of millennials received sex education that covered same-sex relationships in any capacity. Discussing sexual orientation is only required in 12 states.
This clearly leaves LGBTQ+ youth especially vulnerable, and contributes to the stigma against LTBTQ+ populations, might contribute to LGBTQ+ individuals’ fears of coming out, and adds confusion for students of all sexual orientations regarding same-sex attraction.
O.school is a platform that is hoping to change this. Launched in November 2017, O.school is a free online live streaming service that aims to provide sexual health and pleasure education that has the potential to fill knowledge gaps that are present in today’s sexual education system. Since it’s launch, O.school has streamed two to four live videos with sex educators from across the country each day. These lessons are queer, trans, and kink inclusive, and broach subjects such as consent, sexual trauma, polyamory, and lessons unique to certain marginalized populations.
It’s a program that has large support from health professionals.
“We are in an era where many young people around the country are subject to state-level guidelines that limit the type of sexual health education to which they are given access,” Emma Kaywin, a sexual health educator told Healthline.
It’s clear that technology is going to play a huge role in how we manage our health in years to come, and our sexual health is no different. Technology is already well on it’s way to making information about STDs more accessible than ever, but it’s also paving the way to make education, advocacy, and tracking symptoms much easier. In due time, technology will help to make STDs even more obsolete.
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