You've Got Mail ... and an STD

"It would be very psychologically damaging to someone who thought they had a relationship with an individual and then they end up with an e-mail like this," said Wyatt. "I think they're sarcastic, I think they're making light of a very serious situation."

Yet, Wyatt understands why people would choose an e-card to tell their partner. She said much of the problem with spreading STDs, and with treating them, revolves around stigma.

"There's no real protocol for how to discuss sex in our society, so usually people don't talk about their STD history," Wyatt said. "They usually assume, and they're right sometimes, that they'll be discriminated against. ... So people usually keep it private until it's discovered."

Despite that stigma, Wyatt thinks the best way to tell a person about an STD is the old fashioned way: in person.

Reducing the Stigma of STDs

"The best way to disclose it, I think, is to call the person and ask to speak with them," Wyatt said. "Don't leave messages, or leave e-mails that could be looked upon by somebody else ... and I think some feelings of compassion should be expressed."

When it comes to stigma, Betsy O'Rourke, a registered nurse and the American Social Health Association herpes message board moderator, thinks people might do better to relax, especially when it is a non-fatal disease.

"You go to the grocery store and somebody's coughing all over your change and you get sick a couple of days later ... or you go to a locker room at a gym and get a wart on your foot and you say, 'oh, well,'" she said.

"You think you have sex -- and you're naked, sweating and exchanging body fluids -- and you don't think you're going to get sick?" O'Rourke said.

Given her experience moderating the herpes chatroom, O'Rourke said she sees tremendous potential in the anonymous cards.

"I think they're absolutely wonderful," she said. "One of the most popular questions I get on the board, is 'How do I talk with partner ... I wish (the e-cards) would be more widespread."

Although the site is catching on, and I.S.I.S. is working on a national database of testing clinics to expand the service, Klausner said the idea of a third party notifying past partners is nothing new.

"Since 1930, by law, all public health departments have inquired and notified past partners of people with confirmed cases (of STDs)," he said. "Unfortunately, over the past few years, the resources to do this have disappeared."

STI Awareness Only Goes So Far

While funding has dropped, STDs numbers have certainly remained steady. According to Klausner, 10,000 cases of syphilis are reported each year in the United States, and 50,000 cases of HIV infections are reported.

Those numbers may be small enough for public health departments to notify past sexual partners, but Klausner said the magnitude of other diseases is overpowering: 300,000 cases of gonorrhea a year and 1 million cases of Chlamydia reported, with a likely 2 million more unreported.

To Klausner, an e-notification site only addresses a small fraction of the awareness problem, and an even smaller fraction of the larger problem of STD transmission.

"Awareness is a piece of this, but because many of these infections people have but don't know it, it's really about screening," he said.

Klausner said 80 percent of sexually transmitted infections are asymptomatic; so, many people unknowingly pass a disease even before the problem of stigma or embarrassments comes up.

"It's part of the 'hidden epidemic,'" he said.

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