New cases of syphilis, gonorrhea and HIV are on the rise in Rhode Island, a trend that the state health department attributed in part to social media as people increasingly turn to their phones to arrange "casual and often anonymous sexual encounters." Better testing has also contributed to the rising number of infections, the department said.
"Despite the progress we have made in reducing STDs [sexually transmitted diseases] and HIV over the years, there is more work to do," Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, director designee at the Rhode Island Department of Health, said in a release. "This trend reminds us that we cannot become complacent."
From 2013 to 2014, syphilis cases rose by 79 percent, gonorrhea by 30 percent and HIV cases by nearly 33 percent, the department said. New cases of these increased faster among men who have sex with men and had a greater impact on African-Americans and Hispanics as well as on youth.
Although the health department stated that the rising rates followed national trends, the most recent data from U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that from 2012 to 2013, rates of gonorrhea remained stable and rates of syphilis increased only among men. Over the same time period, HIV infections were stable as well, and from 2009 to 2013, HIV infections due to injection drugs decreased.
Sexual education and HIV education are mandated in the Ocean State, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a not-for-profit organization focusing on sexual and reproductive health, and information provided during those educational sessions must be medically appropriate, age appropriate and culturally appropriate and unbiased.
This is the not the first time apps and online and social media have been blamed for upticks in -- or even outbreaks of -- cases of sexually transmitted infections. As researchers at New York University wrote in a paper about Craigslist in 2013, "The ease of seeking sex partners through classified ad sites may promote risky behaviors that increase transmission of STDs."
In 2012, a syphilis outbreak in New Zealand was linked to the app Grindr. It and similar apps have been blamed for spikes in gonorrhea and syphilis in the United Kingdom. "Thanks to Grindr or Tinder, you can acquire chlamydia in five minutes," Peter Greenhouse, of the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV, told the Daily Mail in January.