Dating app users say they’re not to blame for STD increase in Southern Nevada

It’s all fun and games until the itching and burning starts.

Ever vigilant public health officials — including some in the Las Vegas Valley — worry that online dating apps and so-called hook-up websites raise the risk of spreading sexually transmitted diseases.

“These websites and apps can be very problematic, especially when we see STDs on the rise here in Clark County and many other parts of the nation,” said Dr. Joe Iser, chief medical officer for the Southern Nevada Health District.

Hopeful daters use smartphone apps to swipe left or right for many reasons, but it’s hard to fathom health considerations being among them.

You might find information like “athletic and toned” or “a few extra pounds” on an online dating profile, but no site says whether a user is HIV positive or has a history of gonorrhea or chlamydia.

But how realistic would it be to expect users to fill out fields about health data in the digital dating world?

Not so much, according to a promoter for onluxy.com, which bills itself as the “#1 millionaire dating website.”

Requirements like that would raise issues of privacy, said Darren Shuster, director of Los Angeles-based Pop Culture PR, and providing results of medical tests is impractical.

“I can see the benefit of it,” said Shuster, who was in Las Vegas this week promoting the website, called Luxy by its users. “I can see the positives, but the negatives outweigh the positives.”

Luxy takes steps to verify the wealth criteria of its members, but doing that for health risks could be too taxing.

And Luxy users said it’s unfair to blame the Internet for the spread of diseases that have been a problem as long as people have been dating.

Or at least mating.

“That’s going to happen whether you meet someone in person or whether you meet somebody with an app,” Luxy member and 25-year-old Las Vegas resident Chelsea Rachelle Ridenour said.

Ridenour and her friend Jay Thomas Carlson, 26, say Luxy users are higher-caliber people and are more mature than those on dating apps such as Tinder or Grindr.

“People on Luxy are more likely to worry about things like protection, contraception,” Carlson said. “I’m not saying every member does that, takes those precautions, but it’s more likely.”

Luxy uses a format that originated with Tinder: Swiping right on other user’s photos means you would consider meeting them. If the others say yes to your photos, then you’re both notified. Swiping left means you’re not interested.

One advantage of Luxy, as with some other apps, is its connection to Facebook, Shuster said. Not only do members have the data on Luxy, but they can look at the Facebook history of someone they’re interested in.

But this is Las Vegas, and apps aren’t the only way to meet someone new.

Sex is also for sale here — illegally.

That, too, could be a contributor to the wider spread of STDs, Iser said.

“I haven’t seen any data that indicates that one point of entry is worse than the other in terms of risk, but since apps are generally free and apparently very easy to use, that could create significantly more risk,” he said. “Websites can be an entryway into illegal prostitution, too, so I think these various risky venues would be hard to quantify.”

Regardless of the causes, reported cases of several STDs shot up in Clark County in 2014 compared to 2013.

Those numbers, according to the Southern Nevada Health District:

■ Syphilis: From 404 to 530, a rise of 31 percent.

■ Gonorrhea: From 2,285 to 2,745, a rise of 20 percent.

■ HIV: From 257 to 296, a rise of 15 percent.

■ Chlamydia: From 9,373 to 10,096, a rise of 7 percent.

Officials with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say many cases of syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia continue to go undiagnosed and unreported. The most recent CDC data from 2013 show increases in syphilis and gonorrhea but a decline in chlamydia.

Under Nevada law, infecting someone with HIV can carry penalties including fines and incarceration. There is no specific law that states a disclosure about gonorrhea, chlamydia or other sexually transmitted diseases, but the law requires the infected person to report the source of infection to a health authority.

Healthcare professionals advise people to reduce their risk of acquiring an STD by abstaining from sex, getting vaccinated, agreeing to a mutually monogamous sexual relationship, using contraception and reducing the number of sexual partners. People who suspect they have been exposed to an STD should get tested.

A section of the CDC website allows you to type in your ZIP code and find where you can get tested.

Contact Steven Moore at smoore@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4563.

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