Using electronic postcards to notify partners about sexually transmitted diseases

In the United States there are 19 million new sexually transmitted disease (STD) cases diagnosed each year, including 900,000 reported cases of chlamydia, 330,000 reported cases of gonorrhea, and 55,400 estimated new HIV infections per year.

Notifying sexual partners of their potential exposure to an STD has been a mainstay of disease prevention and control since the 1930s. Recent evidence-based reviews concluded that partner notification is effective for identifying those at risk for STDs and HIV infection.

In this week's PLoS Medicine, Andrew Woodruff (Internet Sexuality Information Services, Oakland, California, USA) and colleagues describe the impact of a project called inSPOT (, an Internet-based STD partner notification system that uses electronic postcards (e-cards) to assist people in disclosing an STD diagnosis to their sexual partners.

Choose the form of your destruction.

Traditionally, partner notification has been done in person, by phone, or by mail, with the assistance of a public health investigator. The high number of cases of gonorrhea and chlamydia, however, makes partner notification for all named partners impractical. Particularly among gay men and other men who have sex with men (G/MSM), who tend to have higher numbers of partners, the researchers say online notification may be an effective strategy to increase partner notification.

Recent survey data suggest that with the ease and privacy of online communication, more patients would be willing to receive notification of possible exposure to disease via e-mail or other new technologies.

In a sample of 833 G/MSM in San Francisco, California, 73% responded “yes” when asked, “If you were diagnosed with an STD, would you consider sending an anonymous e-card to notify anyone you had sex with?”

You're certainly less likely to get punched in the face that way.

Levine D, Woodruff AJ, Mocello AR, Lebrija J, Klausner JD (2008) inSPOT: The First Online STD Partner Notification System Using Electronic Postcards. PLoS Med 5(10): e213 doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0050213