People with sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) use Reddit to get a diagnosis without having to consult a doctor, scientists have warned.
A survey found that thousands of messages have been posted on the social media site by people who are concerned about their sexual health.
Many contain close-up graphic photos of their genitals, while others provide a detailed account of their sexual history.
The forum studied in the study – r / STD – has more than 10,000 regular visitors and even has & # 39; trusted employees & # 39; who can comment on the messages of people without showing clear medical references.
Experts warn that these forums can distract people from visiting a real doctor or lead to incorrect or delayed diagnoses, putting their future partners at risk.
Experts say people are turning to the online community to help them diagnose concerns about their genitals, potentially turning them to a real doctor
The r / STD community has more than 10,000 members and there have been more than 17,000 posts since it was founded at the end of 2010 – researchers discovered that it is becoming more popular
A team of researchers led by the University of California, San Diego, analyzed a total of 16,979 posts on the STD forum between 2010 and February 2019.
It has become considerably more popular in the last eight years, with the number of monthly messages rising from less than a dozen to a maximum of 500.
The scientists discovered that 58 percent of all messages came from people requesting a & # 39; crowd diagnosis & # 39; asked.
And almost a third (31 percent) contained a picture of the reported symptoms. About 79 percent of the messages received a reply within one day of submission.
Among the postal titles at the top of the page today were & # 39; What is wrong with my penis? & # 39 ;; & # 39; Is the dermatologist wrong? & # 39; and & # 39; Is this herpes? & # 39 ;.
Many are accompanied by photos claiming they are from the genitals of the posters, with some showing clear signs of sexually transmitted skin infections.
In their paper, the researchers, led by Dr. John Ayers ,: & # 39; Although crowd diagnoses have the benefits of relative anonymity, fast response and multiple opinions, the underlying accuracy of crowd diagnoses is unknown …
& # 39; Responders may work with limited patient information and responders may not have medical training.
& # 39; An incorrect diagnosis can allow continued transmission of diseases, and others viewing a post may incorrectly diagnose their own conditions. & # 39;
Experts from the British charity for sexual health, the Terrence Higgins Trust, said that online advice was useful, but not a substitute for real medical help.
And people should not choose to go online out of shame, she added.
Approximately 58 percent of all messages in the STD community were from people who have a & # 39; crowd diagnosis & # 39; wanted from other users on the social media site, researchers said
While some users share photos of their genitals, others tell more about their sexual history and ask fellow users for advice
The charity's clinical director, Liz Porter, told MailOnline: & The staff (in sexual health services) are all trained professionals who offer a non-judgmental service.
& # 39; I have worked in sexual health for years and I can assure you that we have seen it all before.
& # 39; The internet has been great to make health information more accessible … but for correctly diagnosing STDs the internet is not a substitute for a trained professional who can give a correct diagnosis and treatment.
& # 39; The speed of some STDs is increasing – including syphilis and gonorrhea – and successful treatment is vital to stop the spread. That is why it is important to get that diagnosis as quickly as possible. & # 39;
Reddit is a completely anonymous form of social media that allows people – in most cases – to post messages without anyone ever knowing their true identity.
They can even create one-time & # 39; disposable & # 39; accounts to create messages or comments that cannot be associated with their previous activity.
In the r / STD forum, at least one commentator was marked as a & # 39; trusted contributor & # 39; although it was unclear whether they were qualified medic.
Many people who published on the forum sought second opinions after going to a real medical professional, the scientists noted
At least one commentator was listed as a & # 39; trusted contributor & # 39; in the STD community, although they did not have clearly visible medical records
The top-rated post of all time is one with an incredibly graphic close-up of a vagina with a herpes injury on it, accompanied by basic facts about the infection. The user who posted it said that other information and photos & # 39; s online & # 39; completely unhelpful & # 39; goods
The researchers who conducted the study were concerned that the opinions of doctors who advise the doctors of the second council will not be treated as quickly as they should.
And delays in treatment can cause them to spread the infections more often to other people.
But they also acknowledged that these types of forums could allow doctors to participate to help people get help faster and more accurately.
They added: & # 39; Healthcare professionals could collaborate with social media to promote the potential benefits of crowd diagnosis and to suppress potential harm, for example by having trained professionals respond to messages for better diagnosis and refer to health centers. & # 39;
The research is published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).
MailOnline has contacted Reddit for comments.
DATING APPS BLAMMED FOR INCREASING STI RATES
UK Clinics & # 39; wrestling & # 39; With the rising numbers of STDs, because dating apps encourage casual sex, experts have warned.
Syphilis cases increased by half in Wales between 2016 and 2017, and record numbers of people over 65 receive syphilis, Gonorrhea and Chlamydia in England, figures have shown.
Experts and doctors in the field have warned the rapid reversal of partners and the increase in casual sex fed by online dating apps can make getting an STD more likely.
And they also make it harder to get in touch with partners from the past, who may not have friends in common.
Dr. Olwen Williams, president of the British Association of Sexual Health and HIV told it BBC in October: & # 39; The frequency of app hook-ups and dating apps used as a type of medium for access to sexual activity appears to have increased considerably.
& # 39; What we can say about sexual mixing and sexual networking is that things have changed considerably.
& # 39; We are seeing a real rise in STDs. If we only saw an increase in testing, our figures would look slightly different, but that's how it feels.
& # 39; Certainly in my career I have never seen so much gonorrhea or syphilis in my area. & # 39;
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