Facebook Friends List an STD Predictor?

by | April 2, 2012 at 10:00 AM | General

It might be a long way off, but researchers are eying the potential benefits of using the social media power of Facebook to determine sexually transmitted disease risks, Salon reports.

Peter Leone, of the University of North Carolina’s Center for Infectious Diseases, tells Salon that linking into social networks like Facebook can help researchers expand the pool of people who might be at risk for infection beyond sexual partners.

The logic? Even if a person isn’t identified as a sexual partner, people within certain circles are more likely to sleep with each other and engage in similar risk behaviors, Salon reports. Real-world social connections have already been identified as good STD risk predictors; Facebook just makes it easier to recognize that social network and reach out to people.

Linking friends and sexual encounters proved effective after an outbreak of syphilis in North Carolina.

“When we looked at the networks we could connect many of the cases to sexual encounters, and when we asked who they hung out with, who they knew, we could connect 80 percent of the cases,” Leone tells Salon.

All that could lead to disturbing messages and status updates.

When Leone’s team identifies someone as HIV positive, they’ll ask for sexual partners and friends that could benefit from being tested. With permission, Leone’s team will sometimes use Facebook to contact those people and tell them they should get tested.

While researchers haven’t developed a tool for determining your risk of STD infection just by looking at your friends list, those fighting the spread of disease are eager to link in to social media as new tool in their efforts.