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Might be time to unfollow and unfriend some people

Just when you thought social networking sites couldn’t get anymore intrusive; Facebook may one day develop an app that lets you know who among your friend’s list may be burnin’ in their secret place from an STD:

Peter Leone, a professor of medicine at the University of North Carolina’s Center for Infectious Diseases, is one of those experts. Earlier this month, he spoke at an international health conference and underscored the importance of exploring such possibilities. Real-world social networks — in other words, a person’s circle of friends and sexual partners — have already proved to be strong predictors of STI risk, he says. It follows that sites like Facebook, which convene all of those real-world connections in one virtual setting, have huge potential in this arena.

Leone found that when sexual partners of patients newly diagnosed with HIV came in for testing, 20 percent turned up HIV-positive. It might seem counter-intuitive to extend the targeted test circle to those a newly diagnosed patient is merely friends with, but people in the same social circle often sleep with the same people, and might engage in similar risk-related behavior. Instead of looking at people within a particular at-risk demographic, this approach allows them to target known clusters of infection.

Leone’s team asks patients newly diagnosed with HIV for a list of sexual partners and friends who they think might benefit from testing. Then, with the patients’ permission — permission that is more likely in North Carolina because partner notification, in one form or another, is required by law — they will contact people, sometimes using Facebook, with the alarming news that someone they know has been diagnosed with HIV, and that they might be at risk and should be tested.

Makes you think of the people on your “Close Friends” list a bit differently, doesn’t it?

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