SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Health officials are trying to warn
participants in an Internet chat room that at least seven gay men
who met through the on-line site have been diagnosed with syphilis.
Since most people who use America Online's SFM4M chat room are
disguised by fake "screen" identities, the San Francisco
Department of Health has no names or phone numbers to figure out
who might have been exposed to the sexually transmitted disease.
Officials do know that as many as 47 men may have dated after
meeting in SFM4M, which stands for San Francisco Men For Men, said
Jeffrey Klausner, director of the health department's sexually
transmitted diseases division.
The seven men who fell ill said their most recent encounters had
been with men they met in SFM4M.
AOL refused to release information about its members who visit
the chat room. But it did put Klausner in touch with San
Francisco-based PlanetOut, on online service for gays, lesbians and
PlanetOut employees spent two weeks visiting the chat room and
warning users about the outbreak.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, San Francisco had the
nation's highest rate of syphilis infection. But cases of disease,
which is easily treated with antibiotics if detected early, are at
an all-time national low and the disease is one targeted for
elimination by the federal government.