Health and Medical News and Resources

General interest items edited by Janice Flahiff

Study finds online hookup sites increase HIV rates in sometimes-surprising ways

Study finds online hookup sites increase HIV rates in sometimes-surprising ways.

From the 29 May 2015 University of Maryland news release

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – The introduction of Craigslist led to an increase in HIV-infection cases of 13.5 percent in Florida over a four-year period, according to a new study conducted at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith of Business. The estimated medical costs for those patients will amount to $710 million over the course of their lives.

Online hookup sites have made it easier for people to have casual sex—and also easier to transmit sexually transmitted diseases.  The new study measured the magnitude of the effect of one platform on HIV-infection rates in one state, and offered a detailed look at the varying effects on subpopulations by race, gender and socio-economic status. Looking at the period 2002 to 2006, it found that Craigslist led to an additional 1,149 Floridians contracting HIV.

The study “underscores the need for broader communication and dissemination of the risks posed by the type of online matching platforms studied here,” noted Ritu Agarwal, a professor at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business and founding director of the Center for Health Information and Decision Systems (CHIDS), and Brad N. Greenwood, a 2013 Smith Ph.D. and assistant professor at Temple University’s Fox School of Business.

The study also found that the new HIV cases came disproportionately from one racial-ethnic group, African Americans, who accounted for some 63 percent of the new cases. “That is a bit of paradox,” says Agarwal, “because research suggests that the African American community is one which uses the Internet the least, even though the gap is narrowing.”

Greenwood described African Americans as suffering the effects of a “double digital divide.” He said, “Not only have studies shown there is lower utilization of the Internet for welfare-enhancing activities, but now there’s evidence of utilization for negative activities as well.”

There was also an increase in new HIV cases among Latinos and Caucasians—although only intermittently statistically significant and not statistically different from each other. The lack of difference between Latinos and Caucasians was notable, as Latinos have a higher baseline rate of HIV infection. One explanation could be that fewer Latinos may have sought treatment. Or Florida’s Latino community, which is especially large and well-off, may not be reflective of national trends.

Another counterintuitive result was that more cases came from non-Medicaid patients, the wealthier patients, than from the population covered by the government program.  That was the case even though the base rate of HIV infection is higher among lower-income citizens. “It could be the case that higher-income people face a higher social penalty for engaging in casual, quasi-anonymous sex, and that the freedom of internet anonymity changes their behavior more than it does for the less wealthy,” Agarwal suggested. “Or it could be a byproduct of substantially better internet access.” (Together with the finding for African Americans, that would suggest that degree of internet access affects different sub-populations in different ways).

HIV-prevention efforts tend to focus on the highest-risk populations, such as the economically disadvantaged, but public-health officials should be aware than online platforms may be “changing the game,” says Agarwal.

Perhaps most surprising of all, given the relatively high rates of infection among bi- and homosexual men, there was not a statistically significant difference in HIV-infection-rate increases across men and women.

It could be the case that homosexual men with HIV who used Craigslist were more likely to practice safe sex than infected heterosexuals, the authors speculated. Or matching platforms may lead to more homosexual activity by men who do not identify publically as homosexuals, who then spread the virus to their female partners. The question demands more research, the authors said.

Agarwal and Greenwood were careful to note that they weren’t making a statement about the overall value of Craigslist. Nevertheless, the study offers a reminder of the downside of connectivity. “While there is a general belief that connectivity is good on average, unfortunately ‘on average’ means that some people are going to benefit more and others are going to lose more,” Agarwal says.  “We need to better understand both the beneficial as well as the punitive effects of the Internet on individual and public health.”

July 20, 2015 Posted by | Consumer Health, Health News Items, Medical and Health Research News | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mobile app educates teens on risky sexual behavior

Mobile app educates teens on risky sexual behavior.

From the 1 June 2015 Carnegie Mellon news release

By Shilo Rea / 412-268-6094 / shilo@cmu.edu

mobile app image

Teenagers, parents, educators and clinicians will have a new tool to help adolescents make more informed decisions about their sexual behavior. “Seventeen Days,” a mobile app based on the interactive movie of the same name, will be available at no cost on iPhone, iPad and Android devices beginning June 4.

“Our goal is to create and make readily available a tool that will help teenagers make better decisions for themselves,” said Julie Downs, associate research professor of social and decision sciences at Carnegie Mellon University who studies how social influences affect decision making and how people can make better decisions by understanding these influences. “For the most part, adolescents don’t want to get pregnant. They definitely don’t want to contract a disease. By building on our research about what goes into their decisions, we have crafted an application that will help them avoid these negative outcomes.”

Seventeen Days — in both the video and mobile app form — are results from a five-year, $7.4 million grantfrom the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to update Downs’ earlier interactive video, “What Could You Do?” which was shown to increase abstinence among teenage girls. Preliminary research indicates that giving young women access to the Seventeen Days film leads to better knowledge about the risks associated with different sexual behaviors and a stronger sense that they can carry out safer behaviors themselves.

In addition to CMU, the mobile app was developed with researchers at West Virginia University, the University of Pittsburgh and Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. The goal of creating the mobile app is to get the interactive tool into as many hands as possible.

“We know that teenagers are having sex, and addressing this is a very important part of their healthcare needs,” said Pamela Murray, M.D., M.P.H., professor of pediatrics at the WVU School of Medicine and section chief for WVU Healthcare’s Adolescent Medicine. “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has highlighted teen pregnancy as a winnable public health battle. In the same way that we’ve reduced infectious diseases with immunization, we can reduce teen pregnancy rates and unwanted pregnancies with better communication.”

The mobile app’s release coincides with the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT) annual conference. Beginning June 4, download the Seventeen Days mobile app.

This project and film were made possible by Grant Number TP1AH00040 from the Office of Adolescent Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Related Links:

Watch the 30-second trailer.

Visit the Seventeen Days website.

Follow Seventeen Days on Twitter.

 

July 20, 2015 Posted by | Consumer Health, Health News Items | , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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