People Turn to Social Media to Diagnose STDs


TUESDAY, Nov. 5, 2019 (HealthDay News) — The HIV test came back positive and the patient, full of fear and denial, took to the STD forum on the popular social media site Reddit.

“I’m really scared because they said my results showed ‘HIV-1 Confirmation.’ I have to go back and get another test but I’m wondering is the doc wrong, do you think I have HIV?” the person wrote.

People worried that they have a sexually transmitted disease are more often turning to social media to receive a diagnosis, according to a report published Nov. 5 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Nearly 3 of every 5 posts to Reddit’s STD forum is seeking a “crowd diagnosis” of a suspected infection, often with an accompanying photo of affected genitalia, said senior researcher John Ayers. He’s an associate professor with the Division of Infectious Disease and Global Public Health at the University of California, San Diego.

Worse, 20% of people requesting an STD crowd diagnosis through Reddit specifically sought a second opinion after receiving a diagnosis by a health care professional.

“One in 5 people that went on here was already told by a doctor what their condition was,” Ayers said. “They go on social media to refute that diagnosis.”

He said the phenomenon is disturbing, and not just because it takes the dreaded office question, “Does this look normal?” to a global scale.

There’s a good chance that people are being given misleading or wrong information, which increases the risk of spreading the infection to others, Ayers said.

“We’re undergoing an STD epidemic right now, and in part that epidemic may be fueled by people’s reliance on social media for health care,” he said.

Ayers cited the frightened HIV-positive patient as an example. That post received a reply within an hour, researchers found.

“They go online and they get told they don’t have HIV, which means that person is going to go now and infect more people,” Ayers said.


Rising rates of STDs

The rates of new HIV diagnoses in the United States have remained stable in recent years, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but infection rates for other STDs are skyrocketing:


  • Chlamydia infections are up 19% since 2014, and now stand at 1.8 million.
  • There’s been a 63% increase in gonorrhea cases during that time, to more than 583,400.
  • Primary and secondary syphilis are up 71%, with more than 35,000 cases.
  • Congenital syphilis passed from mother to baby has increased 185%, with more than 1,300 cases.

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