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Some health experts say social media use contributes to higher STD rate

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NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Some health experts say social media has contributed to more sexually transmitted diseases across the country. A recent report from the Rhode Island Department of Health reads, "the recent uptick in STDs in Rhode Island follows a national trend." The data from 2013 to 2014 attributes the increased risk to behaviors that include "using social media to arrange casual and often anonymous sexual encounters." 

"The Internet has been a legitimate way for young people, especially young people right out of college, to connect up and find partners. The problem with some of the sites that are operating now is that the emphasis is not on meeting and developing friendships, it's on meeting and jumping into bed," said Dr. Brobson Lutz. 

Lutz was director of the New Orleans Health Department from 1983 to 1995. He says this wouldn't be the first time experts connected Internet use to an increase in STDs.

"The first one I heard about was a spike of syphilis," Lutz said. "[It] started in San Francisco in about 1999, and that study was reported and well investigated, and it was Internet connected." 

Tulane University social media expert Ashley Nelson says while there's no question that apps give users greater access to people all over the world, she is a bit skeptical of the report linking social media use to an increase in STDs.

"It doesn't make the link between the numbers and where they came from aside from just saying they're looking at the casual hook-ups and everything. They just don't give us concrete evidence," Nelson said. 

But Nelson says this is a good time to educate not only social media users, but all who are sexually active.

"I would say educate all the younger adults who are sexually active and give them the information. On the flip side, I've seen social media outlets where it encourages people to participate in order to educate them about STDs," Lutz said. 

The Rhode Island Health Department report also says the STD increase has been attributed to better testing by providers and other high-risk behaviors like having unprotected sex, multiple partners, and having sex while under the influence. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cases of HIV are up in Louisiana, while gonorrhea cases are down. That data is from 2012 to 2013. CDC numbers also show that Louisiana has the third-highest rate of syphilis in the country, behind Georgia and California. 

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