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Dating Sites May Help Spread HIV: Study

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With the vast craze over social media in the past few years, dating sites joined the fad with millions of users. These hook-up sites may actually help spread Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), adding up to new infections, a new study says.

In a study published in the journal Public Health Reports, researchers from Brown University, Rhode Island Department of Health and The Miriam Hospital found that more than 60 percent of men who have sex with men (MSM) from Rhode Island diagnosed with HIV in 2013 said that they met their sexual partners online.

They Met Partners Online

A total 74 new cases of HIV has been diagnosed in Rhode Island in 2013. Three of five were bisexual, MSM and gay. Of the 43 individuals, 22 reported that they believe the virus came from someone they met in an online dating site.

"This is one of the first studies to document how common Internet site use is among people newly diagnosed with HIV and highlights important opportunities to partner with hookup sites to advance public health," said Amy Nunn, director of the Rhode Island Public Health Institute and associate professor at Brown University.

The researchers noted five most popular dating sites namely Scruff, Adam4Adam, Manhunt, Craigslist and Grindr. Some of these sites are also popular among women. Many young men who have sex with men are meeting sexual partners through these sites.

What Can Be Done?

Public Health Partnership

Public health agencies struggle to sustain informational campaigns on various websites because most of these charge for advertising. It is very expensive for these organizations to post advertisements but these websites should also participate in information dissemination regarding STDs especially that they are promoting risky behaviors among users.

The researchers call for dating sites and apps to use warnings about sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) like HIV. They also recommend that these sites establish partnership with public health agencies in the aim to spread information about the risks of sexual relationships made through these sites.

"We would like to see more of these companies stepping up to the plate to work with public health departments," Dr. Philip Chan from The Miriam Hospital said. They gave credit to websites like Adam4Adam and Manhunt for taking a step toward providing a way for users to list on their profile about their HIV status.

Information Dissemination

Education is the key to curb the spread of STDs including HIV. The goal of the research is to promote information dissemination through prevention messaging. This tool will help prevent further HIV transmission.

"A study like this is an urgent call to action for greater collaboration around education to address the health needs of men who have sex with men," said Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, director of the Rhode Island Department of Health.

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