April: STD Awareness Month

21 04 2011

There are an estimated 19 million new cases of STDs each year in the United States.  That’s too many.  We can significantly cut that number down.

April, the STD Awareness Month, is a time to shine a light on sex and disease.

STDs know no age limits, they can be visible or invisible and, yes, they can even affect our own sons and daughters. STDs also have a serious economic impact, with direct medical costs estimated at $17.0 billion annually  in this country alone.

The majority of STDs are preventable. Just by having a frank discussion with our partners, and using the appropriate protection, we can prevent most sexually transmitted diseases.

These are practical resources to help individuals and parents learn more about STDs and how to deal with current or potential infections:

There is never anything embarrassing about protecting our health. So wrap it up, protect yourself and keep STDs at bay!

(Photo courtesy of Andy54321)





Over 50? Beware of STDs

6 01 2011

Did you ever think you’d be over 50, sexually active, and dealing with an STD?

Safer sex warnings should not only be directed at teens and younger Americans, but to those of us in the AARP crowd as well.

Americans over 50 are sexually active and many factors account for this, including divorce, the advent of prescriptions for erectile dysfunction, and an increased life expectancy.

And with sexual activity can come sexually transmitted diseases. Unfortunately, age is no protection against STDs. Many older adults assume that because they aren’t regularly practicing high risk behaviors such as IV drug use or sex with multiple partners, they are protected.

Older men and women tend to believe they are immune from “all of that,” speaking euphemistically. But it is that kind of thinking that is leading to an increase in STD infections—everything from herpes to HIV.

HIV/AIDS is rapidly spreading among men and women over 50.  The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now recommends routine HIV/AIDS testing for all Americans ages 13 to 64. Dr. John G. Bartlett, Chief of Infectious Diseases at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, sees the new guidelines as a “call to action that the test will be offered on a more regular basis.”

And some experts, including Dr. Veronica Miller, Director of the Forum for Collaborative HIV Research at George Washington University Medical Center, even feel HIV tests should be as “routine as a flu shot.”

The CDC estimates that those over 50 account for 15% of all new HIV/AIDS diagnoses and 24% of those living with HIV/AIDS in this country.

A quarter of a million people living with HIV are unaware of their infection status and are consequently not seeking help for themselves, and may not be ensuring protection from infection for their sexual partners.

Healthcare providers need to take note of the increasing risk of STD infections in their older patients, and  emphasize testing and sex education at every opportunity.





Teens, Vaccines, and Media

26 07 2010

How do I communicate with teens? This question hounds most providers as well as parents and teachers. Thanks to excellent research by the Kaiser Family Foundation and PEW Research Center, we know some of the answer lies in the latest media trends and technologies.

But what about health information? Most parents have to walk the line between gatekeeping and educating their teens about their own health and wellness. Nowhere is this juggle more apparent than in the realm of teens and vaccines.

According to CDC, teens 18 and under need Tdap, meningococcal, seasonal flu, and HPV vaccines, as well as to stay current with other childhood vaccines.

In 2008, CDC launched a pre-teen vaccine campaign, impressing on caregivers the importance of vaccinations for this age group as well. The host of recommended vaccines protect against diseases such as whooping cough, HPV, meningitis, pneumonia, and others.

Reaching Our Teens

Communicating the importance of vaccinations to teens isn’t just a matter of laying out the facts. Programs like GetVaxed, PKIDs teen and young adult site, attempt to reach adolescents using colorful, short, pithy health messages with extra punch and color.

Translating health messages, pithy or not, into action is a science that interests many, especially given the evolution of information-sharing with the onset of online and mobile technologies.  In a subsection of the Internet and American Life Report, Pew Research Center tracks the way teens use technology to communicate and get information.

As teens increasingly turn to texting as their preferred method of communication, parents and health providers would be wise to consider ways to text out health and prevention messages.

According to Pew, using texts to educate teens about STD prevention can be effective, though no data exists currently that addresses text immunization messages.

Given the importance of teen and pre-teen vaccination, it’s clear that parents and immunization educators would benefit from more outreach efforts targeting the favored language of teens (texts, Facebook, and the mobile Web).

The Kaiser Family Foundation’s report, Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8 to 18 Year Olds concludes that in the past few years TV as a messaging medium has largely been replaced by the Internet and mobile technology.

Parents and providers are still the trusted purveyors of immunization information for teens, but we need to adapt how we share that information with them to ensure receipt.

 





Not My Teenager! Right?

26 02 2010

Sometimes I hate reality. I have a teenage girl and I don’t want to think about STIs, but, I also don’t want to risk her health.

Turns out, teenage girls aren’t getting screened early enough for sexually transmitted infections (STIs). They’re getting infected and passing that infection on to their partners.

Recommendations based on recent studies are to screen girls within a year of their first sexual experience.  If they have an STI, they should be retested every three to four months until they become infection-free.

Prevention strategies include early sex education and routine HPV vaccination for 11 and 12 year olds.

One study examined rates of sexually transmitted infections occurring among girls in U.S. cities.  The study found that half of these teenagers had at least one of three common STIs (chlamydia, gonorrhea and trichomoniasis) within the first two years of becoming sexually active.

The study also reported that in 25% of cases, the girls became re-infected with the same STI within four to six months of completing treatment.  Seventy-five percent of the girls reported receiving treatment for at least one more STI during the two years that followed their first infection.  Four years after getting their first STI diagnosis, 92% of the girls had experienced at least one additional STI.

Another study examined a group of 838 girls aged 14-19 and found that 24% of them had had at least one of five common STIs (gonorrhea, chlamydia, trichomoniasis, herpes simplex virus type 2, and human papillomavirus).

Among those girls who admitted to being sexually experienced, the rate of past or present STI infection was 37.7%.  The study also confirmed that for these girls, the STI infection often occurred within the first year of becoming sexually active.  Twenty percent of girls who reported only one partner in their lifetime reported they’d had an infection.

Do you have a daughter?  Talk to her about STIs and how to prevent infection.  Do it even if you think she will not have sex before marriage.  Do it even if she’s already sexually active. If she is active, get her screened for infection so that treatment can be given, should it be necessary.

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Kids and Sex, Gotta Have That Talk

15 02 2010

We have got to talk to our kids about sex (and related topics).  They’re going to snicker and act goofy or scowl and pretend to be annoyed, but they won’t run screaming from the room.  That’s because they want to know!

And we have to do it sooner rather than later.

On four separate occasions over the course of a year, 141 families of children aged 13-17 were surveyed concerning the timing of their chats about sexual topics.

Researchers found that over 50% of the teens had already experienced genital touching by the time their parents talked with them about birth control, sexually transmitted diseases and condom use.

More than 40% of the teens had already had intercourse by the time their parents talked with them about sexually transmitted diseases, condom use, choosing birth control and what to do if your partner refuses to wear a condom.

Why do we as parents allow this to happen?  Research suggests that we don’t have an accurate sense of where our children are in the stages of sexual exploration.

We all know that kids are exposed to sexual images and ideas through movies, music, magazines, and television at ever earlier ages.  This influences them in ways we parents may not be prepared to anticipate.

We want to protect our kids.  Most parents aren’t willing to bet their child’s health or life on an assumption that the child will abstain from sex until the parent thinks he or she is ready.

Experts suggest starting the conversation two years earlier than the age we think is appropriate. Don’t wait until just before we think the child is ready to explore sexual contact.

Sexuality is natural, it’s a part of being human, and it’s not just about sex.  Sexuality encompasses gender, interactions with the opposite sex, how men and women and boys and girls express emotion, body image, intimacy, and sexual orientation.

The kids may not listen when we tell them to take out the trash, but 63% of teens say being able to talk to their parents about sex makes it much easier to postpone sexual activity and avoid teen pregnancy.

Wooohooooo!  Parents doin’ the happy dance!

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Herpes – Even If You Can’t See It

8 02 2010

Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) most often caused by the herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2).

About 45 million people in the U.S. over the age of 11have been infected. When a person becomes infected with the virus, it causes lesions in the genital area. Once a person is infected with HSV-2, there’s no way to get rid of it. The body carries the virus forever, although there may not always be symptoms.

Scientists used to believe that the life cycle of the virus in the body moved through stages of activity and inactivity. When the virus was active, it caused genital lesions. When the lesions went away, the virus was considered inactive.

Newer evidence suggests the virus may not ever be completely inactive. Now scientists believe that the virus continuously sheds small amounts of itself to the genital area along the nerves from the spinal column, even when lesions are not present.

This information suggests that people may be more contagious during “inactive” times than previously thought. Use of condoms can help prevent transmission, but it’s still possible to become infected when using a condom. Even though there are treatments available that help reduce transmission, there’s nothing that provides 100% protection against infection.

Herpes can be painful, and it can be life-threatening to newborns. Practice safe sex to give yourself the best chance to avoid this and other STDs.

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STDs

18 02 2009

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that new cases of common sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are on the rise in the United States. 
 
Almost 19 million of these new infections occur each year, and about half of those infected are between the ages of 15 and 24.  This is the age group that usually bears the brunt of new infections, with women and minorities more likely to be affected. 

About 10 years ago, the CDC began an all-out national effort to eliminate syphilis as an ongoing health problem and nearly succeeded, but the last two years have shown an increase in infections, rather than the expected decrease.

CDC surveillance indicates that reported cases of chlamydia and gonorrhea together surpassed 1.4 million in 2007.

As with so many types of infections, someone can look perfectly healthy but be living with one of these diseases.  If you’re sexually active, get tested a couple of times a year.  Don’t be shy about asking your healthcare provider to test you.  It’s better to identify and possibly treat an infection than let it go until it causes potentially serious and long-term health problems.

Take control of your life.  It’s the only one you’re going to get!

The report, “Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance 2007,” can be found at http://www.cdc.gov/std/stats07/toc.htm for those interested in delving deeper into this subject.