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 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.

Abortion, Abortion Rights, anti-abortion, Government Policy, pro-choice, reproductive rights

North Dakota

                Non-surgical abortions are a safe and effective way to terminate a pregnancy without requiring a surgical procedure. In the U.S. it is generally administered with two medications; the first to stop fetal growth and the second to induce a miscarriage. While is it likely that a miscarriage will occur naturally after fetal growth is halted it can take longer for this to occur which is why the second medication is used. This option is commonly chosen by women who want to avoid the invasiveness of a surgical procedure or who want to pass the pregnancy in the privacy of their homes. Whatever their reasons are for choosing a medication termination over a surgical are personal to each individual and should not be limited.

Last summer, North Dakota lawmakers banned the off label use of a common medication used in medication terminations. Most medications are approved by the FDA for one or two uses but are useful for many other medical conditions. For example Topamax® is a prescription medication FDA approved for the treatment of epilepsy in adults or children; however it has been found to also be effective in treating migraines. Doctors who prescribe it for migraine sufferers are prescribing it for an off-label use. The North Dakota law only bans off label use for a medication used in abortions; not off label use in general which makes it unconstitutional and unfairly limits the options available to abortion patients.

According to the Huffington Post the Red River Women’s Clinic performs approximately 1300 abortions a year and about 250 of them are medication based. They use mifeprex to stop fetal growth and this medication is FDA approved for that use. The problem comes with the second medication used to induce a miscarriage, misoprostol which is FDA approved for the treatment of ulcers but not abortion.

In July the Center for Reproductive Rights, on behalf of Red River Women’s Clinic, (the only abortion provider in the state) filed suit against the law and was successful in obtaining a temporary restraining order to block the law from taking effect. The judge has been hearing arguments both for and against the law and has continued the order until he makes a decision regarding a permanent block on the law.

The law leaves women with access to the drug that stops cell growth but not the drug that will actually cause the miscarriage, according to this is one of the issues the judge has with the law. He is quoted as saying “You’ve got one drug … that’s labeled for use in abortions, but you’ve got another drug that isn’t, and you need them both… I don’t get it. How do I get around that?” The lawyer for the state replied that mifeprex alone could induce an abortion. Judge Corwin replied: “So you’re suggesting that a doctor should give patients the (mifeprex) and just hope that that works? And if it doesn’t, then what do they do?” He also pointed out that the state didn’t provide evidence that medication abortions are unsafe or even less safe than the surgical procedure.

                Though Judge Corwin has yet to make a final decision, it seems there is reason to be hopeful that this law will be overturned.

HIV Awareness, Immunizations

HIV Vaccine

In light of the Holiday season and coming New Year we wanted to bring some positive news in this post. In today’s poor economy with near constant attacks on reproductive rights it can sometimes be overwhelming to work in a reproductive health atmosphere. Because of that we wanted to end this week on a more positive note. The US FDA has approved an HIV vaccine SAV001 for human testing starting in January 2012.A few other possible vaccines have already started the human testing phase but Dr. Chil-Yong Kang and his team of researchers doing something quite different with their vaccine and it could prove to be a very fruitful difference.

Up until now, potential vaccines have used fragments in the development of the vaccine. Though vaccines of this nature have proven effective against certain diseases, so far none have been successful at protecting against HIV. Dr. Kang is doing something very different. He went back to the very beginning of vaccination, when scientists used the whole virus and used chemicals and radiation to kill it. This method is how polio was eradicated. So far, no scientists have attempted this method to combat HIV though.

During the toxicology testing phase, the medication proved to have no severe side effects so they can now begin phase 1 of human testing. This phase will include a very small sample of about 40 people              who are already HIV positive for safety. Then they will move on the phase 2 which will have about 600 HIV negative people who are at high risk for transmission such as intravenous drug users. Phase 3 will have a control group and a vaccinated group and will have about 6000 subjects. Following phase 3 researchers will be able to tell whether SAV001 effectively prevents HIV transmission or not. Dr. Kang says if all goes well the vaccine could be on the market in as few as 5 years.

While an effective vaccine is not a cure for HIV/AIDS, it is a huge step towards eradicating transmission and would give hope to the millions of people who are at high risk due to parents or partners having HIV.  During times like this it is always nice to read about such promising steps forward in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Hopefully one day, scientist will be able to find not only an effective vaccine, but a cure for those already infected.


Birth Control, health care, pro-choice, reproductive rights, women's health

Birth Control Pills Cause Prostate Cancer… Except Not Really

                So some news outlets are reporting on a new study coming out of Canada that shows in countries with higher rates of birth control pill use there is also a higher rate of prostate cancer. The study is being reported as though there is a causal link between the two. Though the study authors are quoted in a Fox News article saying: “Several studies now have found an association between estrogen exposure and prostate cancer… We think this is environmental —[estrogen] goes into the water, into our food chain… We can’t establish a cause-and-effect relationship. We definitely don’t think the take-home message is women should stop taking the pill.” News organizations reporting on this study are by and large ignoring this fact and continue to claim that birth control pills may be causing prostate cancer by getting into the water supply through the urine of women taking the pill.

                Okay, to start lets acknowledge some of the facts. First, there are many studies showing that there is an increased amount of estrogen hormones in water systems throughout the world. There are also studies showing that this estrogen is NOT solely or even predominantly coming from the estrogen types found in human birth control pills. In fact, the estrogen from birth control pills in water systems is a negligible amount. The estrogen in the water systems is actually coming from industrial sources. So although there may in fact be an as yet unproven causal link between estrogen in the water systems and higher rates of prostate cancer, the estrogen causing it is not from birth control pills.

                Second, as Erin Ryan points out a Jezebel, “countries with high rates of oral contraceptive use have higher life expectancy and therefore more likelihood that men would not be killed by something besides prostate cancer first.” Countries with higher rates of birth control pill use tend to also have better health care systems and fewer dangerous living situations that cause early deaths. Prostate cancer is almost always found in men over 60 and the likelihood of getting goes up farther after 70. It makes sense even without a link to estrogen that there would be higher instances of prostate cancer in countries with higher rates of birth control pill use because people are living longer in these countries.

                So once again, conservatives are using a very loose concurrence to try and prove that birth control pills are evil and should be done away with. Except, as usual, they are totally misconstruing the evidence and providing false information. What they should be focusing on is why the industrial hormones are getting into the water systems in the first place and how the water can be more effectively and efficiently purified to ensure the hormones aren’t getting into the drinking water.

children's health, Government Policy, health care, HIV Awareness

AIDS-Free Generation

Last week Secretary of State Hillary Clinton held a press conference at the National Institutes of Health to announce an update to the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PERFAR). Her announcement included calls to create an “AIDS-Free Generation” by reducing transmission rates overall and creating new and better ways to treat those already infected.

Reducing mother-to-child transmission rates was the only goal to be given a completion date, 2015. The primary goal of this initiative is to reduce mother to child transmission rates to 0. This can be done by ensuring pregnant and nursing women get proper treatment with retroviral medication. According to her speech, this method prevented over 114,000 mother-to-child transmissions. At present, 1 in 7 new transmissions is mother to child, so by ensuring pregnant and nursing people get treatment this number can be reduced.

The initiative also includes provisions to limit transmission rates by encouraging voluntary male circumcision. Studies show that a man who has been circumcised is more than 60% less likely to pass HIV to a female partner. Male circumcision can sometimes be a hot button topic, but encouraging a man who is HIV positive to get circumcised is clearly in the best interest of ensuring he doesn’t infect future partners. The third part of the initiative is one we have already mentioned here; the fact that treating an already infected person reduces the risk of transmission by 96%. To ensure these goals get met the White House is partnering with various health agencies and governments throughout the world to implement strategies to best fit the needs of the communities in those countries. Secretary Clinton also announced $60 million in funding for these initiatives.

According to an article at The Huffington Post, these methods can and will be effective at driving down transmission rates; especially when combined with traditional methods of decreasing transmission such as condom use and proactive testing:

“Mathematical models show that scaling up combination prevention to realistic levels using these three core interventions in high-prevalence countries would drive down the global rate of new infection by at least 40 to 60 percent. That is on top of the 25 percent drop we have already seen in the past decade. Moreover, by implementing this core package along with other effective interventions, such as condoms, HIV testing and counseling, legal reform, programs to reduce stigma and discrimination, and the behavioral supports needed for all successful efforts, we can maximize the total impact.”

They are also reaching out to raise awareness through pop culture. During her speech, Secretary Clinton announced the recruitment of daytime talk show host Ellen DeGeneres as the Special Envoy for Global AIDS Awareness.  DeGeneres has a wildly popular TV show along with a massive social media following with 5.8 million Facebook fans and 8 million Twitter followers. She is an advocate for raising awareness.

With World AIDS Day coming up on December 1st many are expecting more news from the White House in regards to current and future AIDS related initiatives.

health care, HIV Awareness, reproductive rights

Breakthrough in preventing HIV and Herpes

Big news on the STD prevention front was recently released. Last year scientist announced the results from a study done in South Africa on the effectiveness of a gel designed to inhibit the spread of HIV. The gel, which contains the active ingredient tenofovir, reduces transmission rates of HIV up to 39% with typical use and up to 54% with consistent use. Scientists and AIDS prevention advocates are excited about the implications this could have because the gel is the first prevention tool that can be used directly by the woman. Condoms and sexual monogamy on the part of her partner are often outside a woman’s control so this gel gives women a way to be in charge of their own risk.

The gel has even more implications that just HIV reductions. The researchers also found that the gel reduced transmission of herpes by 51% with typical use and 62% with consistent use. The herpes virus, while in and of itself is not deadly. It is however highly stigmatized in the U.S. in spite of its prevalence; 21% of all sexually active women in the U.S. have it. One of the primary symptoms of herpes is the creation of open blisters in the genital region. These blisters make transmission on HIV easier than if no sores were present. This gel can help prevent both of these diseases.

When the study was initially released, scientist were unsure of why the gel blocked herpes, they only knew that it did. They undertook a study to further explore their results and recently released their findings. The tenofovir in the gel, when it enters human tissue, blocks the creation of an enzyme that allows the herpes virus to flourish which makes it harder for the virus to actually infect a person who has used the gel. The gel also prolonged the life of lab mice that had been infected with the herpes virus.

As of now the gel is not in testing for U.S. approval but based on the results of the study manufacturer of the gel, Gilead, is considering the possibility of marketing to the U.S. They will have to spend millions of dollars on the approval process first and even if they started right away say it will take a few years before they are ready to present to the FDA but given its effectiveness it may be worth the time and money.

Birth Control, health care, HIV Awareness, women's health

HIV Transmission while using Injectable Birth Control

                Over the past few days I’ve been seeing articles about the rate of HIV transmission goes up when a women uses an injectable contraceptive. At first I just kind of brushed them off thinking, “well of course transmission rates go up, the couples using injectables probably aren’t using condoms and condoms are essential at protecting against STD transmission.” As I read more about it, I found out that condom usage actually was tracked by the researchers and women on injectable birth control were twice as likely to give and twice as likely to get HIV as women who didn’t use any type of birth control at all, as in no condoms either. Well, that’s… awful.

                According to the researchers, they looked at approximately 3800 couples from Botswana Kenya, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia- one of whom was already infected with HIV, and tracked their status for at least 2 years. Women who had a partner who was HIV positive and were using injectables had a transmission rate of 6.61 per 100 person-years (a measurement commonly used by epidemiologists to determine incidence of disease in a population over time), compared with 3.78 among women who used any other method”The male partners of women who used injectables and were HIV positive themselves had a transmission rate of “2.61 per 100 person-years, compared with a rate of 1.51 per 100 person-years in men whose HIV-positive partners used no contraception.”

                In laymen’s terms this means that transmission rates doubled when an injectable contraceptive was used than when no contraceptive was used at all. So somehow the hormones in this type of birth control seem to making it easier for HIV antibodies to flourish and transfer bodies. Though scientist do now know how or why it is occurring, at this point it seems hard to deny. Because of the results of this study,the World Health Organization is convening a meeting in January to evaluate whether it should continue to encourage women in AIDS ridden countries to use injectable birth control.

                The problem stems from a no-win situation. Injectable birth controls are some of the most effective and easiest to use birth control methods available; especially in areas where access to quality medical care is hardest to get. They can be given without needing a doctor present, only needs to be given once every three months and can be hidden from a partner who may not want his spouse to use birth control. Because of this it is one of the most popular forms of birth control among women in Africa. It is incredibly important that women in countries with already high maternal and infant mortality rates have access to effective contraceptives, such as an injectable. However, if injectables are helping to spread HIV then they pose an equally tragic health risk. One scientist, who found similar results in his own research, mentions that before WHO can recommend discontinued use of injectables they will first need to find an alternative to offer the women in these countries.

                It should be pointed out that these results, while specific to women in Africa, are likely to be true for women across the globe. So no matter what kind of birth control you are using, it is important to always, always use a condom if you aren’t sure of your partners STI status. It’s cliché but true: It’s better to be safe, than sorry.