You've Got Mail ... and an STD

If a card that reads "you're too hot to be out of action -– I got diagnosed with herpes since we played" ends up in your inbox, think twice before marking it spam.

A public health Web site called has put the trend of e-cards, e-mail, and e-vites to a unique purpose: the e-postcard that notifies you that a past sexual partner came down with a sexually transmitted disease or infection.

The sender can choose the STD, and whether to disclose their name, while will automatically send a list of local health resources to the recipient.

"Believe it or not, I thought I'd rather get something telling me than not," said Susan, who lives with herpes and runs the herpes support group HELP in Manchester, Conn.

"But then, the first reaction was, is this for real or is this a sick joke from somebody?" said Susan, who asked that not use her full name.

Opinions may vary about the e-cards, but the trend is growing, according to a study by the site's creators in the Internet Sexuality Information Services online journal.

A Growing Trend

Since the site's launch in 2004, more than 30,000 people have sent a total of more than 49,500 e-cards. has been adapted by eight major metropolitan areas, nine states, and two international areas (including Romania) for both homosexual and heterosexual couples.

"It's kind of like the e-vite for party notifications, but this is for STD notifications," said Dr. Jeffrey Klausner of the San Francisco Department of Public Health.

It was Klausner who approached the technology-savvy public health group I.S.I.S. Inc. in the early 2000s to help him develop the site.

"In 1999, I discovered an outbreak of syphilis related to an AOL chatroom," Klausner said. Just a year before, San Francisco had eight cases of syphilis a year. By the end of 2004, Klausner said, the city had 550 reported cases.

After tracing the outbreaks to the chatroom, Klausner and colleagues at I.S.I.S. Inc decided to use the same type of communication that facilitated the hook-ups to help resolve the situation.

Using Technology For STDs

"We were seeing these things and thought there must be a way we can use technology as a means of prevention, not just a transmission tool," said Deb Levine, the executive director of I.S.I.S. Inc.

According to Levine and Klausner's survey of 833 gay men and men who had had sex with other men in San Francisco, 73 percent would recommend sending an anonymous e-card if they had to notify past partners about STDs.

Levine said focus groups in Philadelphia and Indianapolis indicated that the e-cards might be a good idea for heterosexual people, too.

But, Susan, who estimates she has counseled or spoken with more than 1,000 people diagnosed with herpes in Connecticut, isn't so sure.

"In general, we in the office thought, 'Oh -- it's kind of a way of telling somebody,'" she said. "The next thought would be, 'Would I just delete this or would this drive me crazy because who could this possibly have been from?'

"If somebody doesn't care enough to tell me in person, then it's kind of a slap in the face," she added.

How You Disclose an STD Matters

Gail Wyatt, a clinical psychologist, sex therapist and professor in the department of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at the University of California in Los Angeles, couldn't agree more.

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