To add to those slideshows of genital warts, Los Angeles health teachers have a new weapon in the battle against sexually transmitted diseases: a web and text-message app.
The Los Angeles Unified School District has shared the STD-tracking app Qpid.me with seventh- and ninth-grade health teachers for them to discuss with students as they see fit. The free app shows users where to get STD tests at clinics that will release the results online. Users can then share the results confidentially with a partner via a text message. The app also reminds people to schedule a yearly STD test.
In a statement Thursday, Tim Kordic, program manager for the LAUSD's Health Education Programs, preemptively addressed concerns about any negative effect Qpid.me might have on students. From the statement:
I think that to many adults, the concept of having your status mixed with technology is an unknown; not the traditional way of communicating personal information, thus dangerous. We have spoken to our most important stakeholder though, our students, and they have a different perspective. They not only want this type of resource, they are excited about it. We have the opportunity to avoid misuse and take advantage of the technology so it works for us.
Qpid.me first launched for users aged 18 and over in 2010. But after talks with Kordic, company founder Ramin Bastani saw the need to lower the app's user age to 13.
"We changed it a year ago, partially because of conversations with LAUSD," said Bastani in a phone interview with The Huffington Post. "We want to reduce the amount of STDs out there and encourage testing."
Bastani, who was born in Iran and grew up in Orange County, Calif., is now based in Los Angeles. On his website profile, Bastani wrote that he founded Qpid.me because "a girl slapped me in the face after I asked if she'd been 'tested.'" He wanted to take the sting out of that sometimes awkward question for others.
"We want to make STD testing suck less," he told HuffPost. "Because the process is not fun."
Qpid.me users can access their test results online (as opposed to the usual practice of health care workers delivering results verbally) and send another person a link to their status via text message. The link leads to a site that can be accessed only one time before it vanishes.
While Bastani acknowledges that test results could still be screen-captured by the recipient for nefarious purposes, he notes that users can customize their profile so that only an alias is displayed. "It's like anything else," said Bastani. "If you don't want things shared by other people, you don't share them" in the first place.
He pointed out that any user who tested positive for a curable STD could get treated and then retested before sharing results with a partner. And no matter what the results may be, the app always reminds people to continue using condoms.
While some parents may be concerned that discussing the app in school sends a message that sexual activity among teens is a good idea, studies referenced by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate that many teens are already making that decision.
People aged 15 to 24 constitute half of the 20 million new STD infections each year, according to the CDC. Among a national group of high schoolers surveyed in 2011, 33.7 percent had engaged in sexual intercourse within the last three months. Of those, 39.8 percent did not use a condom the last time they had sex and 15.3 percent had had sex with four or more people in their lifetime.
Qpid.me is just one of several apps and other technologies that are trying to stem the tide of STDs.
STD Triage, which launched in March, allows users to snap a picture of possibly infected genitals (or "below-the-belt worries," as HuffPost SF put it) and send it to a team of licensed dermatologists. While downloading the app and submitting a photo is free, it costs $9.99 to read the results.
OraQuick, which hit the shelves late last year, is an at-home HIV test that delivers results in 20 to 40 minutes. It was approved by the Food and Drug Administration for over-the-counter sale last July, and AIDS activist Magic Johnson called the technology a "game changer."
For those who already have incurable STDs, there are online dating sites that cater just to them. Sites like Positive Singles and H-YPE offer individuals the ability to seek out potential partners without the added burden of worrying that an HIV or herpes diagnosis will scare those partners away.