About Anna C.

Anna first volunteered for Planned Parenthood as a high school student in the 1990s. Since then, she has received a bachelor’s degree from UC Berkeley and a master's degree in epidemiology from the University of Arizona. As an ode to her fascination with microbes, she writes the monthly STD Awareness series, as well as other pieces focusing on health and medicine.

STD Awareness: Can Older Adults Receive the HPV Vaccine?

female-patient-with-female-doctorWhen the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines were introduced, a lot of people were excited about protection from a sexually transmitted virus that could cause cancers, including cervical cancer, anal cancer, and head-and-neck cancer. It wasn’t just any old vaccine, it was a shot that could prevent cancer. Cancer!

In fact, a lot of people were disappointed they were too old to take advantage of an anti-cancer vaccine, which was initially approved for people as old as 26. We were given a lot of reasons why people above that age were “too old,” such as the assumption that anyone older than 26 has probably been sexually active for years and would have already contracted the most common strains of HPV.


While getting vaccinated before becoming sexually active is optimal, the HPV vaccine can still benefit people who have already had sex.


But there are compelling reasons to vaccinate people in their late 20s and beyond. In fact, Gardasil 9 was recently approved for people as old as 45. That’s great news for those of us who missed out on the HPV vaccine the first time around. We might never have had any sexual contact, and therefore were never at risk for catching the sexually transmitted virus. We might have found ourselves widowed or divorced after years or decades of monogamy. We might have been sexually active with multiple partners during that time. Whatever our circumstances, those of us who are 45 or younger can now consider HPV vaccination.

HPV and the “Older” Individual

When Cervarix and Gardasil, the first HPV vaccines, were released, they only protected against two cancer-causing HPV strains, HPV-16 and HPV-18, which are responsible for 70 percent of cervical cancers (Gardasil protects against two additional wart-causing HPV strains). A few years ago, Gardasil 9 hit the market, targeting five additional cancer-causing HPV strains — increasing the chances that even sexually active recipients could be protected from HPV strains they hadn’t encountered. Continue reading

Meet Our Candidates: Athena Salman for State Representative, LD 26

The time to fight back — and fight forward — for reproductive justice is fast approaching. The stakes are high in this year’s state election, with candidates for governor, secretary of state, attorney general, and other races on the ballot. The Arizona general election will be held November 6, 2018, and with early voting beginning on October 10. Voters need to be registered by October 9 to cast their ballots. Reproductive health has been under attack, both nationally and statewide, but Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona has endorsed candidates who put our health and our rights first. Get to know them now in our series of “Meet Our Candidates” interviews, and make your voice heard in 2018!

Legislative District 26 is a magnet for people who care about Arizona’s most pressing issues: reproductive justice, immigrants’ rights, LGBTQ equality, and strong public education. Given the deep pool of talent from which this district draws, it has a history of exciting legislators who fight for these values at the Capitol. Athena Salman is no exception. After a successful first term, she is running for reelection in order to continue representing her district, which includes Tempe, Mesa, Phoenix, and the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community.


“If we don’t remain diligent in protecting our rights, then the discrimination we see now will pale in comparison to what’s down the pipeline.”


When Salman began her first term in 2017, she soon joined women from both parties in accusing Rep. Don Shooter (R-Yuma) of sexual harassment. The story ended in February, when the House voted 56 to 3 to expel Rep. Shooter, an event that marked the first time a state lawmaker was ousted from office in the #MeToo era. Around the same time, Salman was making headlines for spearheading the #LetItFlow campaign, bringing awareness to female prisoners’ lack of adequate access to menstrual hygiene products. In both instances, Salman centered her actions on protecting the dignity of women everywhere in the state.

Thanks to her passionate advocacy for these and other issues during her first two years in office, Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona is pleased to endorse Rep. Salman for a second term. She took the time to respond to our questions on September 18, 2018.

Since we last spoke, how has your commitment to serving Arizona grown? What has happened during that time to give you hope, and what has happened to strengthen your convictions?

My entire life, my mother’s entire life, even my grandmother’s entire life, for as long as we can remember, women have been harassed and shamed for exercising our constitutional right to reproductive health care and self-determination.

However, from #MeToo to #TimesUp we are seeing women from all backgrounds uniting and saying “Enough is enough!” With Roe v. Wade hanging in the balance, women are raising our voices in the one place where we are truly equal, the ballot, and making sure we are being heard loud and clear. Need proof? This primary election alone saw women in Maricopa County outnumber men in early voting by 65,000. As several have already stated, the future is female. Continue reading

STD Awareness: Confronting Sky-High STD Rates

For the past five years, Americans have been breaking records left and right — a good thing when we’re talking about athletic feats or scientific breakthroughs, but not so great when we’re shattering records for catching sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis are all on the upswing, with a combined 2.3 million cases in 2017 — and those are just the cases that were reported. Since most people with these infections don’t know they have them, the real number is thought to be much higher. The United States has the dubious honor of boasting the highest STD rates of all industrialized countries — though rates are also climbing in England and Western Europe.

The good news is that these three STDs are preventable and curable. Sexually active people can dramatically reduce their risk by using condoms and dental dams, or by being in mutually monogamous relationships in which partners test negative for these infections. And, because many STDs don’t show symptoms, it’s important for them to receive regular STD screening to ensure infections are caught and cured before they can do any damage.

But there’s also bad news. First, while the symptoms of these infections can be awful, they compel you to seek prompt treatment — making these awful symptoms a good thing, in a weird way. Unfortunately, most people with these infections don’t have symptoms, allowing the bacteria that cause them to spread silently from person to person. If not caught, chlamydia and gonorrhea can lead to chronic pain and fertility problems, and syphilis can lead to organ damage and even death. These infections can also increase HIV risk and be passed to a baby during childbirth. Continue reading

STD Awareness: HPV Testing vs. the Pap Test

I love writing about health and medicine, but I hate going to the doctor. I don’t like taking my clothes off for a dermatological exam, I don’t like rolling my sleeve up for a shot, and I don’t like opening my mouth for a dentist. I don’t even like having my blood pressure taken — it gives me the heebie-jeebies, and probably a case of white-coat hypertension too.


For now, pelvic exams are a mainstay — and an important part of cancer prevention.


So when it comes to something even more invasive, like the Pap test to screen for cervical cancer, I’m one of those people pining for a magic wand — a tool that a health care provider can wave over your fully clothed body to detect disease. The Pap test may have transformed a scourge like cervical cancer into one of the most easily detected and treated cancers — and for that I love it — but I still fervently wish for its demise. As long as it’s replaced by something better, of course.

Last month, an article in JAMA inspired a burst of headlines. “HPV test more effective than Pap smear in cancer screening,” said CNN. Or as WebMD put it more succinctly, “HPV Test Beats Pap.” Then, last week, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force updated their guidelines to recommend that patients 30 and older can forgo the Pap test in favor of HPV testing alone. This news might be welcome to anyone who dislikes regular Pap tests and wishes to avoid stirrups and speculums. Unfortunately, HPV tests aren’t the noninvasive “magic wand” so many of us hope for. From the patient’s perspective, the experience of undergoing an HPV test is no different from the experience of undergoing a Pap test. They both require a pelvic exam — the stuff of stirrups and speculums. Continue reading

Meet Our Candidates: Sean Bowie for State Senator, LD 18

The time to fight back — and fight forward — for reproductive justice is fast approaching. The stakes are high in this year’s state election, with candidates for governor, secretary of state, attorney general, and other races on the ballot. The Arizona primary election will be held August 28, 2018, and voters need to be registered by July 30 to cast their ballots. Reproductive health has been under attack, both nationally and statewide, but Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona has endorsed candidates who put our health and our rights first. Get to know them now in our series of “Meet Our Candidates” interviews, and make your voice heard in 2018!

Legislative District 18 stretches from Chandler to Ahwatukee, just south of Phoenix. It is currently represented in the state Senate by Sean Bowie, who ousted former Sen. Jeff Dial in 2016. Sen. Bowie’s win in 2016 was a victory for proponents of reproductive rights and LGBTQ equality, as his predecessor helped block access to contraception and abortion, and voted to codify discrimination based on sexual orientation into law. In contrast, Sen. Bowie has upheld the rights of women and the dignity of LGBTQ folks.


“We can work to stop bad pieces of legislation at the state level.”


For example, earlier this year Sen. Bowie introduced a bill that would have banned conversion therapy for minors in Arizona. Conversion therapy is based on the idea that someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity can be changed, and its proponents have used the imprimatur of psychology in an attempt to legitimize the psychological torture of many LGBTQ youth.

Most Arizonans oppose this practice, recognizing conversion therapy as ineffective at best — and inhumane at worst, as the practice could be complicit in the high suicide rate within the LGBTQ population. If passed, the bill would have made Arizona the 10th state in the country to outlaw this harmful and pseudoscientific practice — but the bill did not get off the ground. A shift in the Senate might give a bill like this the support it needs, however — pointing to the importance of voting in every election, including midterms.

Due to his support for reproductive justice and LGBTQ rights, Sen. Bowie has earned our endorsement. He generously took the time to answer our questions on July 9, 2018.

Since we last spoke, how has your commitment to serving Arizona grown? What has happened during that time to give you hope, and what has happened to strengthen your convictions?

I’ve really enjoyed representing my community in the state Senate these past two years. As one of 30 senators for the entire state, I can really have an impact on public policy at the state level. And because I work across the aisle in a bipartisan way, I’ve helped improve legislation, stop some bad bills, and get some good bills over the finish line. We’ve made some progress on some key areas, particularly funding for K-12 education, but we still have a way to go to get to where our state needs to be. Since the Senate is so narrowly divided, we’ve also stopped a lot of bills that would have been harmful for the state. Continue reading

Meet Our Candidates: Richard Andrade for State Representative, LD 29

The time to fight back — and fight forward — for reproductive justice is fast approaching. The stakes are high in this year’s state election, with candidates for governor, secretary of state, attorney general, and other races on the ballot. The Arizona primary election will be held August 28, 2018, and voters need to be registered by July 30 to cast their ballots. Reproductive health has been under attack, both nationally and statewide, but Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona has endorsed candidates who put our health and our rights first. Get to know them now in our series of “Meet Our Candidates” interviews, and make your voice heard in 2018!

Richard Andrade represents Legislative District 29, which includes Glendale and West Phoenix. His roots in the Southwest are deep: His great-grandparents settled in Winslow, a small town on Arizona’s Route 66, to work for the Sante Fe Railroad. After high school, Rep. Andrade joined the U.S. Air Force, and was stationed at Luke Air Force Base outside of Phoenix. Afterward, he continued his family tradition with a job at the railroad, during which time he became heavily involved in unions.

Today he represents his West Valley constituents by standing for working families and health care access, and against discrimination in all forms. He earns Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona’s endorsement thanks to his strong stance in favor of reproductive rights and LGBTQ equality — two things that are in jeopardy as the Supreme Court is poised for a rightward shift. As Rep. Andrade told us, “I strongly stand with PPAA, especially during this time of uncertainty.”


“We have an opportunity to flip one or even both chambers in the Legislature.”


We endorsed Rep. Andrade in 2014 and 2016, and are proud to endorse him again. He generously took the time to answer our questions on July 9, 2018.

What have you accomplished in your previous term?

I am the only House Democrat who for the last two years has had legislation signed by the governor. These two bills, HB 2341 from 2017 and HB 2421 from 2018, protect all National Guard members’ jobs upon completion of their deployments — including National Guard members who are members from National Guard units from other states but work and reside in Arizona. I also had two House Concurrent Memorials from 2018, HCMs 2007 and 2008, pass out of both chambers, House and Senate, to the secretary of state, urging Congress to support two important issues regarding our veterans. Continue reading

STD Awareness: Is Mouthwash a Match for Gonorrhea’s Superpowers?

Since the 1930s, we’ve enjoyed around eight decades of easily cured gonorrhea — at least in places with easy access to antibiotics — but experts fear those days are numbered. In the past year or so, cases of untreatable gonorrhea have occasionally made headlines.

Thanks to the powers of evolution, some bacteria have acquired the multiple genes necessary to withstand the onslaught of the pills and shots administered by doctors. Gonococci, the bacteria that cause gonorrhea, are starting to win this “arms race” with humans, whose antibiotic arsenals are losing effectiveness. And with gonorrhea on the rise, gonococci may be evolving at an ever-quickening clip.


In 1879, Listerine claimed to cure gonorrhea. Today, scientists are finally testing that claim. We await the results.


Oral Gonorrhea: The Silent Scourge

Many experts believe oral gonorrhea is a key driver of antibiotic resistance. These infections usually don’t cause symptoms, and without symptoms people usually don’t seek treatment. Without treatment, gonococci can hang out in a throat for up to three months.

After transmission by oral sex — and possibly even by kissing  — gonococci can set up camp in the throat, which is an ideal environment for acquiring antibiotic resistance. They might not be causing symptoms, but they’re not sitting there twiddling their thumbs, either. If there’s one thing gonococci love to do, it’s collecting genes like some of us collect trading cards, and the throat is a gathering place for closely related bacteria species that hand out antibiotic-resistance genes for their expanding collections.

Gonococci can easily scavenge DNA from their surroundings — say, from a dead bacterium — and patch long segments of these genes into their own DNA, creating genetic hybrids between themselves and other organisms. Last month, scientists from Indiana University caught this phenomenon on video for the first time.

Continue reading