Wednesday, July 18, 2007

You've Got Mail!
And I Think You Might Have Something Else Too!

The Internet is now a common place to find everything from dates to one-night stands, and the only thing partners often know about each other is an e-mail address. So, Los Angeles County health officials are trying to establish their own presence online. The same generation that's using the Internet to find dates is also using the Web to tell their partners they may have taken away something more than a nice memory from their romantic encounter. I'm sure this is one e-mail most of us would not want to get!

The Los Angeles County Health Department has established a Web site, which allows users to inform their sexual partners that they may have been exposed to disease. Featured on the site is a selection of electronic greeting cards with a variety of chatty greetings to choose from: "There's something I need to tell you. It's not what you brought to the party, it's what you left with." And there's the payoff line, if you can call it that: "I got an STD, and you might have it too." LA County's Director of Public Health, Dr. Jonathan Fielding, said, "It does not give people a diagnosis. All it does is tell somebody that they may have been exposed and they should get tested."

The Los Angeles County Health Department established the Web site in its continuing fight against sexually transmitted diseases, especially AIDS. Health officials estimate that in L.A. County alone, up to 60,000 people have HIV and a quarter of them don't know it. The Web site has more than just the electronic notification cards. It has information about diseases, treatment, and where to go to get help. "We just want to have as many different ways for people to get critical information to those at risk as soon as possible," Fielding said. "That's the best way of controlling these terrible epidemics of sexually transmitted diseases."

The Web site gives users the ability to tailor messages and specify exactly what disease might be involved: syphilis, gonorrhea, or even HIV. Users can include a personal message or send the card anonymously. Some critics have questioned whether this is the best way to tell someone they might have been exposed, particularly to HIV. But, "The best thing is for people to disclose," said Karen Mall of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation. "That's the message." The Los Angeles Web site is modeled after one in San Francisco, which has sent out as many as 500 e-cards a month. Similar Web sites are also planned for Seattle and Philadelphia.

In a related story, and a new way to get tested for the dreaded STD, designer Malcolm Kimberley has decided to take your health seriously. His Relief Urinal (formerly names the Pistake Urinal) takes samples of your urine, analyzes it for sexually transmitted diseases, and sends the results to your cell phone via Bluetooth. The name of the urinal, which may entymologically refer to the pistachio shape of the sculpture (or, more likely, the method of providing a sample). It's also a great idea to get medical results to people when it's most relevant, especially if this is installed in clubs and bars. Finally, we like the idea of bathrooms communicating with your phone, someday, toilets will probably send an email message reminding us when we forget to flush.

I can only imagine some of the possibilities of these ecards. Imagine getting one that says, "My nookie days are over. My pilot light's burned out. What used to be my sex appeal is totally burned out. Time when of it's own accord from my Levi's it would spring - but this morning when I woke up I couldn't find the blasted thing. It used to be embarassing, the way my tallywacker would behave, becuase every single morning it would stand and watch me shave. But as this STD encroaches, it's sure giving me the blues, to see it hang it's little head and watch me tie my shoes. Get tested and have a nice day!" YIKES!