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)





Life On a Blog

24 03 2011

image by inju

Blogging is therapeutic. For those living with or affected by infectious diseases, it can be a way to connect with those whose lives mirror their own.

Brooke Davidoff, diagnosed HIV positive in January 2010, blogs about her life as a newlywed and a first-time mom. Brooke’s life turned upside down during her pregnancy, when she had a routine blood test for HIV and discovered she was positive. “If there was no baby, I’d still have no idea,” she blogged. 

Brooke started blogging “. . . to express myself, I don’t know how not to. When I was diagnosed, I searched for stuff written by other HIV positive females to relate to, and I had a very hard time finding what I was looking for. So I began to write it for other women like me who needed to know they are not alone.”

Sabina is a 15-year-old girl who loves volleyball and dancing. She’s slogging through a year of treatment for hepatitis C and blogs about it “. . .  to share my experience of HCV treatment for children or adults who are starting or already started their treatment. I know that treatment can be difficult and painful, I would just like to give another perspective. I just want to help out and be there for other kids or adults.”

Elizabeth Boskey, PhD, MPH, calls on her education and research experience each time she blogs about STDs. Ever the teacher, Elizabeth says, “There is a lot of secrecy and stigma surrounding STDs. I blog about STDs not only to address the misconceptions about them, but to make them a topic of discussion.

“Some people think that having an STD means that they’re dirty or ruined, that infection marks them as a slut or somehow undesirable—all of which is ridiculous. Still, these feelings are common in people who have had bad experiences disclosing an STD to a partner, or who have simply internalized the stigma that is widely present in American society.

“People make jokes, and not kind ones, about STD infection, but the truth is that STDs are just diseases like any other. Yes, they are often preventable, and people should do their best to prevent them, but acquiring an STD doesn’t make you a bad person.”

Are you ready to blog?
It’s easy to get started. There’s no cost, other than your time, and, if you’re speaking from personal experience, what it costs you to speak from your heart.

Brooke blogs to share with women like herself, and to let her friends and family know that she’s OK. “I think I’m helping other people feel more normal…the stigma hopefully will diminish in time.”

Blogging can be a positive experience, but there are emotional risks.

“I think that if more people blogged about STDs it might help reduce some of the stigma associated with them,” says Elizabeth. “However, I think it’s important to acknowledge that doing so is not without risks. Publicly acknowledging an STD infection may change the way that people around you treat you. It may even affect your employment—although it shouldn’t.”

Boundaries
It’s OK to not share every single thing in your life. Write honestly, but don’t fret about keeping some details private. It is your life, so you define the boundaries beyond which you’re not comfortable sharing.

Readers
If you write about it, they will come, but be prepared for the readers’ thoughts that may cascade upon you. Some comments you’ll treasure and some, well, let’s just say they’ll raise the eyebrows.

“I check daily for new comments and emails,” says Brooke. “The ones that touch me the most are people who found out the same way I did, or the ones who decided to have a baby after reading my story.”

There’s a yin yang to blogging, as there is elsewhere in life. Be prepared for the nasties you’ll find in the comments section of your blog.

“Although blogging can be a wonderful way to gather personal support, it may also have less positive results,” explains Elizabeth. “Comments can be negative, or even cruel and vindictive. It may be worth blogging anonymously if you are concerned about your privacy and the ramifications for exposure in your daily life; however, it is very difficult to ‘guarantee’ that your identity will not become known. This is particularly true if you are discussing sensitive issues such as those involving your sexuality.”

Last words
Bloggers always get the last word, and that’s no less true for our guests today.

Brooke on HIV: I live a normal life other than taking pills every day. I’m waiting to see what the disease does to me. I think all of us sit and wonder when it’s going to kick in, and what it’s going to do.
If you’re having unprotected sex, get tested. You never know. There are really no symptoms that would lead you to get the test, it’s better to know and get on meds now than find out when it’s too late and you’re really sick.

Sabina on HCV: [I want people to know] that we’re not harmful to others as long as we don’t share blood transferring items, such as razors, and toothbrushes. And that having HCV [hepatitis C virus] doesn’t set you apart from others even though it’s a serious virus.

Elizabeth on STDs: I don’t think you have to blog about STDs to help destigmatize them. Make a point of having open and honest discussions of sexuality with your partners and your family. Don’t allow people to get away with making cruel comments about infectious diseases or even “cute” jokes. And, finally, remember that a lot of the stigma surrounding STDs has to do with ignorance. Educate yourself—about how common STDs are, about testing, and about prevention—so that you can educate the people around you.





Time for a Tune-Up?

17 01 2011

The start of a fresh year is a clean slate, especially when it comes to our health. We’re making resolutions to exercise more, eat a little better, seek more relaxation. It can be a great opportunity to make those appointments that we’ve been putting off. January marks Cervical Health Month,  and it’s a nice reminder to get a check-up, ahem, down there.

PKIDs has several blogs and pods on HPV and cervical cancer if you want to find out what the big deal is, and it’s a pretty big deal.  Any of us can be at risk for STDs or cancer. Learning how to prevent infection is key to staying in control of our bodies.

The HPV vaccine gives us that control. In addition to preventing infection with many strains of HPV that can cause cervical cancer, it helps prevent STDs and anal cancer for both women and men .

There’s a lot of stuff to keep up with in our lives. At the start of a new year, it’s overwhelming!  Taking control of our own health by getting vaccinated to prevent disease is something we can easily do. Let’s make 2011 our healthiest year yet!





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.





Does Herpes Ever Sleep?

6 12 2010

A Time Magazine cover story from August 2, 1982, described herpes as “Today’s Scarlet Letter.” Back then, both treatment and diagnostic testing for herpes were cumbersome and unreliable.

In the ’70s and ’80s, herpes support groups were established, helping to bring the infection out of the closet.

With the advent of Acyclovir and other antivirals, as well as the (mostly) suppressed painful outbreaks, the lives of many herpes sufferers were transformed. Yet gaps in both the understanding of the virus as well as treatment persist.

Between 1978 and 1990, the prevalence of genital herpes grew by 32%. Currently, estimates are that 1 in 4 American adults over the age of 12 have genital herpes, though most carriers are unaware they’re infected.

Until recently, it’s been accepted that the herpes virus sets up “permanent residence in the ganglia.”

In other words, the virus is believed to be an infection characterized by periodic recurrences followed by inactivity.

A recent study challenges this assumption, finding that the infection “may occur on both sides of the midline and in more ganglia than previously thought.” If these results hold up to further validation, it will show chronic herpes infection to be continuously active, rather than cyclical. A big difference which could change the lives of those infected and inspire new prevention methods.

Currently, the best way to prevent herpes remains sexual abstinence or a long term-monogamous relationship with a partner who’s been tested and is not HSV-2+.





Back to School?!

9 08 2010

The kids are staggering around, moaning about school’s approach while we parents giggle in our sleep.  We have to put in some work to get our little sweetums of all ages launched into the new school year, but the payoff is worth it.  The kids – out of the house!

Vaccines.  Have to get pre-schoolers, collegians and everyone in-between up-to-date on those immunizations.  Ice cream afterward, no matter the age.

Flu.  Ok, this seems like it should be with the vaccines above, but most of us focus on the immunizations we need to get done before the kids go back to school, and this one usually isn’t available in clinics until September/October.  Put it on the calendar, because it’s easy to forget.  Check with your provider about each member of your family getting vaccinated against influenza.  It’s important.

Cover coughs.  With kids crammed into classrooms and adults back at the office after summer holiday, diseases have a chance to spread quickly.  Show the kids how to cough (or sneeze) into their elbows, or into tissues.  This helps stop the germs from floating around and being inhaled by others, or from landing on surfaces that others then touch, picking up the germs on their hands.

Wash hands.  Washing our hands throughout the day, and always after using the bathroom and before we eat, is an all-around good habit.  It’s one of the most effective ways to prevent infections.  Show the kids how to wash their hands.  We didn’t know there was a particular way that worked best until we had a nurse come in and show us prior to making this little video a few years ago.

Dating.  There will be a lot more interaction between teens after school starts.  Even though they know about STDs, it doesn’t hurt for them to hear us talk about the ways diseases spread.  It’s surprising how parents’ willingness to talk, and talk often, can impact a teen’s choices.  Also, thanks to the recent vampire craze, we have to explain that biting your date’s neck can spread all sorts of diseases.

Any parents out there want to chime in on what they do or say to keep their kids healthy?  We’d love to hear!





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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