Grindr, Tinder Used To Track Potential STD Patients To Warn Them

Health workers from Iowa are using dating apps like Grindr and Tinder to trace people who have potentially been exposed to different sexually transmitted diseases like chlamydia and gonorrhea.

Officials from the Iowa Department of Public Health are sending messages to people who have had sexual contact with patients being treated in their hospitals, usually through Facebook Messenger, Grindr, Tinder, and other online dating apps.

Health workers from Iowa are using dating apps like Grindr and Tinder in order to trace people who have potentially been exposed to different sexually transmitted diseases like chlamydia and gonorrhea.

Officials from the Iowa Department of Public Health are sending messages to people who have had sexual contact with patients being treated in their hospitals, usually through Facebook Messenger, Grindr, Tinder, and other online dating apps.

Shannon Wood, a disease intervention specialist for IDPH, is one of the people in charge in sending these messages, which says that the recipient may have been exposed to an STD, urging them to contact a health professional as soon as possible.

“I have information that you may have been in contact with someone diagnosed as having a serious illness,” one of the standard messages reads. “It is very important you contact me to discuss this.”

Tracking the sexual partners of patients diagnosed with STD

In order to determine and “trace” people who have potentially been exposed to STDs, Woods and other public health practitioners in Iowa are interviewing patients who come to different clinics to be treated for a sexually-transmitted disease. With the consent of the patient, the officials are asking for the recent sexual partners of those who are diagnosed with chlamydia, gonorrhea, and other STD’s to warn them that a possible exposure may put them at risk of contraction.

When making these announcements, the health officials will refuse to disclose where they get the information from as part of the confidentiality agreement with their snow-balled patient.

With the rising of online dating and hook-up apps like Grindr and Tinder, the number of STD’s and STI’s in Iowa was rising, mirroring the numbers for the entire country. According to Woods, this “contact tracing” strategy has since been used for decades to stop the spread of a virus or bacteria and to prevent people from contracting contagious diseases. It is, however, made it easier for health officials now, because Grindr and Tinder keep records of who a person may have interacted with sexually.

“You don’t have to get gussied up and go out to the bar anymore,” said Jaimie Wiese, an investigator for the Polk County Health Department, talking about how easy it is for people to get a sexual partner nowadays, even without knowing each others’ names.

This culture, on the other hand, also made it easier for health officials now, because Grindr and Tinder keep records of who a person may have interacted with sexually.

The mission of these public health practitioners is also backed by legislation. In Iowa, the law requires clinics to notify public health officials whenever a patient is confirmed to have contracted chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis or HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. The health officials are then also mandated to investigate the case and contact the patient to ask for their recent sex partners.

Health officials conducting these interviews said that some patients decline to disclose their sexual partners. However, a huge majority of them are open to participating, citing that they would like public health officials to handle the disclosure of potential exposure to STDs to their partners.

Grindr, Tinder saves them long hours of tracing

Interestingly, Wood says that some of the patient she interviewed don’t even know the names of the partners they had sex with, but they remembered the house or the place where they met. Wood told journalists that this is where they start their investigation and mission to trace the sex partner.

That’s why Grindr and Tinder, as well as Facebook Messenger, turned out to be an unlikely ally for the health investigators. Wood expressed how the apps save them long hours of tracking people and long car drives as they can contact potential patients just by using the app in their offices.

The investigators, to the best of their ability, try to project a non-judgmental mentality towards the cases they handle to encourage more people to trust them and disclose information that could help save their sexual partners from STDs.

“We ‘don’t care about ‘who’s having sex with who. ‘That’s not the point,” Wiese said.

The more strengthened campaign comes from the alarming increase in sexually-transmitted infections that have seen by Iowan health officers. From 2010 to 2018, the number of Iowa chlamydia cases jumped 39%, to 14,685. Gonorrhea cases soared 168%, to 4,839, and syphilis cases went up 316%, to 283, the state health department reports.

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