(HealthDay News) – Social networking seems to be an effective tool for increasing HIV testing among at-risk populations, according to a study published in the Sept. 3 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Sean D. Young, PhD, from the University of California in Los Angeles, and colleagues conducted a trial in which 16 peer leaders were randomly assigned to deliver information about HIV (intervention group) or general health (control group) to participants (112 mainly African-American and Latino men who have sex with men) via Facebook groups over 12 weeks. Following acceptance of a request to join the group, participation was voluntary. Group participation and engagement were evaluated. Participants completed questionnaires at baseline and at 12 weeks and they could request a free, home-based HIV testing kit.

The researchers found that most participants in both groups voluntarily communicated using the social platform (nearly 95% of 57 intervention participants and 73% of 55 control participants). 44% of intervention participants and 20% of control participants requested home-based HIV testing kits. Of those who requested kits, 36% and 18%, respectively, took the test and mailed it back.

“Social networking communities are acceptable and effective tools to increase home-based HIV testing among at-risk populations,” the authors write.

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