Birth Control, health care, HIV Awareness, reproductive rights

April is STD Awareness Month… Here are some things you should know

            In case you didn’t know, April is National STD Awareness month. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) press release announcing this points out that although young people account for approximately 25% of the sexually active populations, people aged 15-24 account for nearly half of all new cases of STD’s/STI’s. This is a disproportionate number to say the least.

            Young people are not the only group that needs to worry about STD/STI’s. According to a news report on CBSNews.com STD/STI rates among seniors have doubled over the past decade. Though there are likely a number of factors causing this increase, the article points out the widespread availability of Viagra and similar drugs that enable sexual activity at older ages as a major contributing factor.

Most people think that they will have symptoms if they are infected with an STD/STI. In some cases this is true; a few STD’s do have very noticeable and sometimes painful symptoms. For example, herpes sores can be quite painful, especially the first time you have one. Other STD’s/STI’s might cause pain during sex or urination and off color discharge from the genitals. Most of the time though STD/STI’s are symptom-less; unless you are tested for them there is no real way to know if you have one. Check out these fact sheets from the CDC, they give symptom and treatment information for the most commons STD/STI’s in theU.S.

It is important that EVERYONE get tested regularly if they are sexually active. STD/STI’s can be transmitted through intercourse, oral sex and anal sex. If you are sexually active, it is important to protect yourself and your future partners. Here are some things you can do to limit your exposure to STD/STI’s. Remember to use a condom every time, even if you are using another form of birth control. Other forms of birth control do not decrease risk of STD/STI’s. Use dental dams or a condom when performing oral sex. Using protection whenever you engage in sexual activity will greatly decrease your chances of contracting or spreading any infections.

Some people may be worried about getting tested because of the social stigma attached to STD/STI’s in our culture; but having an STD/STI doesn’t have to be a life changing event. Most are curable; those that aren’t like herpes can be treated and made manageable. Even HIV/AIDS is no longer a death sentence if you are diagnosed early enough. New studies show that the earlier you begin treatment for HIV/AIDS the longer  life span you will have and the less likely you are to spread it to some one else.

            To treat any STD/STI’s and to prevent spreading to others, you have to know you have one, so get yourself tested regularly and often. Contact your local health care provider or use the widget below to find a testing facility near you.

http://www.cdcnpin.org/GYTWidgets/GYTWidget.aspx

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Government Policy, Immunizations, reproductive rights

Should the HPV Vaccine be given to both Sexes?

The HPV vaccine has been FDA approved for girls and women since 2006 and for boys and men since 2009. HPV is also one of the most common STD’s in the US with at least 50% of all sexually active men and women having it at some point in their lives. Since HPV is linked to multiple types of cancer and especially to cervical cancer, getting vaccinated has the benefit of preventing these cancers. The vaccine is low risk and has minimal side effects but people are still questioning who should get it.

A new study out of Venice uses a mathematical model to show how the spread of HPV can most effectively be stunted by only vaccinating one sex. Herd immunity is the result of widespread vaccination. Basically if enough people in a community are vaccinated against something (75%-95% of the population) then everyone else is protected too. The concept is true enough, that is pretty much how polio was eradicated. Because the vaccine was approved for women first and most countries already have programs in place to encourage girls getting the vaccine, the researchers conclude that it would be most efficient to have only girls get vaccinated. On the surface it seems pretty logical.

The problem with applying herd immunity to the HPV vaccine is that it would require a perfect world in which ALL or nearly all women were able to be vaccinated. This just isn’t really feasible at this point. The vaccine is approved for people over 26. Anyone over 26 when the vaccine was approved is not eligible to get it, but that doesn’t mean they are necessarily out of the dating community for someone who was under 26 at the time of FDA approval. So a 31 year old woman is dating a 30 year old man. Since only women “need” to be vaccinated, her partner is still at risk. It’s only a year but it makes a huge difference.

On top of that problem, a girl’s only model completely ignores the reality of gay men. Some men have sex with both men and women so by not getting vaccinated these men are still at risk of getting and transferring HPV to their non-vaccinated partners. Plus, we can’t forget the conservative backlash against all things sex related.  Some parents seem to think this will cause their daughters to be promiscuous if they get the vaccine. This isn’t true, but it isn’t keeping people from believing it. This belief is keeping them from getting their daughters vaccinated.

So until we live in a more perfect world where the majority of women are able to get vaccinated at a young enough age, applying a girls only standard to the HPV vaccine will not help the other half of the population.

reproductive rights, women's health, women's health care

HPV linked to Heart Disease

                Researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch have found a tentative link between heart disease and HPV in women. They looked at the data from over 2500 women ages 20-59 who participated in the US National Health and Nutrition Exam from 2003-2006. They found that approximately 45% of the participants had some strain of HPV and 23% of them had a cancer causing strain.

                They looked at the history of heart disease and heart disease risk factors along with age, race and lifestyle habits. They then compared this information among three groups: women with cancer causing HPV strains, those with other HPV strains and women without HPV. They found strong associations between cancer causing HPV strains and heart disease.

                To sum up the findings, they found that after controlling for other risk factors such as weight, smoking habits etc women with cancer causing HPV were 2.86 times more likely to develop some kind of heart disease than women who did not have any HPV strains. Since 20% of heart disease can’t be linked to standard risk factors, this opens the door to develop new understandings of heart disease prevention and treatment.

                The study is only a tentative link, more research will need to be done to prove a not only that a link exists, but that the link is one of cause and effect. According to a CBS News report: “In the U.S., one in four women die from heart disease. The # 1 killer in both sexes, heart disease takes more than 631,000 lives each year. Every year about 785,000 Americans suffer their first heart attack.” With the impact of heart disease in this country this news could have a huge impact on treating that 20% of heart disease with unknown causes. Another weakness is that the data only reflects an impact on women’s health so research will also need to be done to see if a link exists for men.

                HPV vaccines are already recommended for girls and women ages 9 to 26 and recently a government advisory committee has added a recommendation for boys and men ages 9-21. Though some conservatives feel this is inappropriately encouraging premarital sex, it seems ridiculous to deprive people of a vaccine that could not only help prevent cancer but possibly heart disease as well.

                Of course, it is important to always practice safer sex, so if you are unsure of your partners STI status remember to use a condom.

Birth Control, reproductive rights, Womens Health

Live Action Goes After Sex Ed Funding

                You may or may not already be familiar with Lila Rose and her organization Live Action.  Just in case you aren’t here is a brief overview. Lila Rose is an extreme anti-choice activist who, when she was still a teenager, produced a video of girls posing as underage prostitutes and older men posing as their pimps attempting to prove that Planned Parenthood promotes child sex-trafficking. They secretly filmed their interactions with Planned Parenthood employees, some of whom did seem to give very shady advice. However for the most part the video interactions were heavily edited to make it seem as though Planned Parenthood, as a company, advocates the information a very small number of employees were giving out. The video was subsequently discredited and Planned Parenthood fired the individuals who were responsible for the bad information. The video has subsequently been used by anti-choice activists and politicians as proof the Planned Parenthood is evil and should not be given any state or federal funding.

                The attempt to defund Planned Parenthood at the federal level was unsuccessful thanks to President Obama and the Democrat controlled Senate refusing to be bullied into defunding them. However that has not stopped Lila Rose on her quest to vilify Planned Parenthood. During a panel at the recent Values Voter Summit, Rose announced that Live Action is already working on a new video that will prove that Planned Parenthood is somehow misusing funds they receive for the sex education programs. Her ultimate goal is apparently to get that funding stripped and given to abstinence only programs.

                As of now, no details have been released as to what exactly it is they are arguing against in regards to the sex education programs run by Planned Parenthood. I highly doubt their focus stems from anything other than the desire to perpetuate the stigma surrounding sexuality. “Sex is a sin” so they want people to receive abstinence only sex education programs. These programs are filled with biased and untrue information. Not only that, but they just don’t work. Teens that go through abstinence only programs are less likely to use a condom when having sex and are less likely to seek treatment if they start showing symptoms of an STD.

                I cannot wrap my head around people who insist on abstinence only sex education programs. It has been proven time and time again that they do not work. I’d also really appreciate it if someone could explain to me how refusing to teach people how to protect themselves from HIV, HPV, herpes, etc. is a bad thing I would really appreciate it, because to my knowledge protection against them is a good thing.

health care, women's health, women's health care, women's issues

HPV’s Link with Cervical Cancer

               According to the Center for Disease Control at least 50% of sexually active men and women will have HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) at some point in their lives. There are over 40 strains of genital HPV, most of which the immune system will attack and destroy completely within two years with the carrier never knowing. As many as 15 strains carry serious side effects; the most serious being Cervical Cancer.

                There is some variation in medical opinion as to how frequently women should get HPV/cancer screenings done but overall the opinion seems to be that women should start getting them no later than age 21 and continuing at least every 2-3 years depending on age and risk factor. Physicians may still advise a yearly pelvic exam, even if only doing full screenings every other year. While the American Cancer Society and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists say every two years is sufficient, most OB/GYNs require full pap smear tests be done yearly before they will prescribe or renew birth control for a patient. Some women find pap smears and pelvic exams to be an uncomfortable experience and may feel this requirement is an intrusion, but the reality of cervical cancer makes this precaution completely sensible.

                According to the CDC, nearly all cases of cervical cancer are caused by HPV. HPV can also be linked to other genital cancers as well as oral cancer. Approximately 22,600 people get an HPV related cancer each year; most of them are women. Some other risk factors of developing cervical cancer in women who already have HPV are: smoking, a weakened immune system, and using birth control pills for 5 or more years. Once cervical cancer is metastasized there is only an 18% chance of survival. The good news is that there is a drastic increase in your chances of survival if detected early; it shoots up to 90%. Pap smears detect HPV originated abnormal cells before cancer actually develops and provides the opportunity to have the abnormal cells removed before they cause a problem; making pap smears vitally important to maintaining women’s health.

                If you are over the age of 21 and haven’t had a pap smear yet or haven’t had one in more than two years, please consider the fate of the 4,210 who will die this year because of cervical cancer. Make sure you aren’t one of them and make an appointment today.

Sources:

Center for Disease Control, (2009). Genital hpv infection- fact sheet Atlanta, GA: Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/std/HPV/STDFact-HPV.htm

http://seer.cancer.gov/statfacts/html/cervix.html

http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/wyntk/cervix.pdf

http://www.americanwomensservices.com