Some Good News About Three Sexually Transmitted Viruses

Scientists are hard at work finding ways to improve your health!

With so much bad news emblazoned across headlines in every newspaper you look at, the world might seem like a gloomy place. So let’s take one depressing subject — disease — and peel away the sad outer layer to find silver linings of optimism.

When it comes to infections, a lot of us blame one thing: germs, also known as “bugs” — “pathogens” if we’re fancy. Some people might not think of infectious diseases as being that big of a deal — after a round of antibiotics, you’ll be on the mend. Unfortunately, antibiotics only work for bacteria, but a lot of diseases are caused by other types of germs — for which antibiotics are no match. One type of germ is called a virus, and they can’t be cured. Sometimes they can be prevented with vaccines or treated with drugs. For example, the major strains of human papillomavirus (HPV) can be prevented with a vaccine called Gardasil, herpes simplex virus can be suppressed with antiviral drugs, and HIV can be controlled with antiretroviral drugs — but none of these infections can be cured. HPV is usually defeated by the immune system, but herpes and HIV are with you for life.

But it’s not all bad. Around the world, individual scientists have picked their “favorite” viruses and are devoting their lives to finding better prevention strategies, better treatments, and even cures. Let’s check in with some of the latest headlines touting the successes of science.

New Hope for a Herpes Vaccine

A herpes vaccine would be a blockbuster — given how common this sexually transmitted infection is, a preventive shot could help a lot of couples discuss their herpes status without as much fear of judgment and stigma.

Herpes might cause an “outbreak” — unpleasant symptoms that include genital sores — but afterward the virus goes dormant in the nerve cells, hiding from the immune system. In some people, the virus can come out of its dormancy to cause flare-ups of symptoms, but once it’s had its fun it retreats back to the nerve cells.

Earlier this year, media reported on a promising new candidate for a herpes vaccine. Using a completely different strategy than previous, failed herpes vaccines, the researchers behind this breakthrough targeted the part of the virus that allows it to hide from our immune systems. If this vaccine works as hoped, recipients will be able to mount an immune defense when exposed to the virus, blocking it from establishing a permanent home in nerve cells. It might even suppress outbreaks in people who already have herpes. Continue reading

STD Awareness: Prevention vs. Punishment

Before antibiotics, syphilis could kill and gonorrhea was responsible for most cases of infertility. Both diseases could spread from husband to wife to baby, potentially destroying families. So you’d think medical breakthroughs in prevention and cures would be welcomed with open arms.

The actual history, like the humans who create it, is much more complicated.


Compassion, rather than fear and guilt, should guide medical practice.


During World War I, sexually transmitted diseases were a huge problem — second only to the 1918 flu pandemic in the number of sick days they caused (7 million, if you’re counting). The Roaring Twenties saw a sexual revolution, and by World War II, the military was once more fretting about losing manpower to debilitating infections that drew men away from the front lines and into the sick bays.

The armed forces did what it could to suppress prostitution and distract soldiers with recreational activities. But the human sex drive could not be contained: The vast majority of U.S. soldiers were having sex — even an estimated half of married soldiers were not faithful to their wives during WWII. Victory depended on soldiers’ health, so during both WWI and WWII, the military provided its sexually active soldiers with “prophylaxis,” medical treatments that could reduce risk for venereal disease — or VD, as sexually transmitted diseases were called back then.

Anyone who thinks condoms are a hassle or “don’t feel good” should read medical historian Allan M. Brandt’s description of a WWI-era prophylactic station, which soldiers were instructed to visit after sexual contact: Continue reading

Pro-Choice Friday News Rundown

  • The Washington Post has a nifty graphic explaining what the Senate health care bill changes about the Affordable Care Act. FYI: It’s really just as much an abomination as the House’s crappy version. (WaPo)
  • To be clear, Planned Parenthood would be screwed out of funding if GOP numbskulls have their way. (Newsweek)
  • The Arizona State Senate has more female members, proportionally speaking, than any other state legislative body in the entire country. So why in all hells does this state still pass so much anti-woman legislation? WHY?!? (Phoenix New Times)
  • Apparently, women in many states can’t legally revoke consent if sex with a partner turns violent during the act? The failure to cease the sex when a woman says so isn’t legally “rape” according to the courts if she has already consented. Evidently, men are entitled to “finish” (ejaculate) once consent has been given and it cannot be revoked. WTF?!?! How is this real life? (Broadly)
  • Fusion has a great piece and accompanying documentary about rising maternal mortality rates among black women in the U.S. (Fusion)
  • NY Attorney General Sues Anti-Abortion Groups for Viciously Harassing Patients Outside Queens Clinic. Good. Throw.The.Book.At.These.Fools. Who else is willing to bet rent money that they are in the “so pro-life they’ve never fostered or adopted any children” crowd? A show of hands please. (Jezebel)
  • Missouri is legit taking a page out of The Handmaid’s Tale, y’all. (The Mary Sue)
  • Six experts quit the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS because they feel No. 45 “simply does not care” about the disease. Obviously, this does not bode well for HIV/AIDS treatment or research to eradicate the disease. (CNN)
  • Earlier this week, Karen Handel won the special election in Georgia. Here’s a reminder why she’s literally the absolute worst and will be no champion for women. She’s also so “pro-life” she’s never fostered or adopted any children. That puts her in good company with all the other “pro-lifers” in government. (Cosmopolitan)
  • Most sexually active teenagers in the U.S. are using contraception! Good job, kids! (Time)
  • If you’re sick of Republicans rigging elections in their favor, the possibility of SCOTUS delivering a rebuke over gerrymandering should excite you just a little bit! (WaPo)

STD Awareness: Gonorrhea’s Latest Dubious Honor

Wanted: Scientists who can develop novel antibiotics

A few years ago, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) put out a “greatest hits” list of antibiotic-resistant pathogens. More recently, in late February, the World Health Organization (WHO) followed suit with a dirty-dozen list of 12 “superbugs,” which was composed mostly of potentially fatal microbes that are becoming increasingly impervious to the drugs that once easily killed them. These are the bacteria WHO believes represent the greatest microbial threat to human health, and the list was compiled in the hopes of providing direction — and motivation — to pharmaceutical researchers who are desperately needed to develop new antibiotics.


Investing in antibiotic development now will save lives later.


A quick primer on antibiotic resistance: Antibiotics kill living organisms called bacteria, but like all living organisms, bacteria can evolve. Just as giraffes evolve longer and longer necks that allow them to eat more and more leaves, so too do bacteria evolve resistance to antibiotics. For example, a resistant bacterium can evolve the ability to spit out the drug before it has a chance to kill it, or it can evolve structural changes to its cell wall that make it impossible for the drug to attach to it.

One superbug, classified as an “urgent threat” by the CDC and a “high priority” by WHO, stands out from the pack. Unlike the other bacteria in these lists, an untreated infection with this bug isn’t thought to be deadly — but it still wreaks enough havoc to merit special attention from such esteemed bodies as the CDC and WHO. That bug is Neisseria gonorrhoeae, and you have one guess what disease it causes. (If you said gonorrhea, you guessed right.) Continue reading

April 10 Is National Youth HIV & AIDS Awareness Day

The following is a guest post by Planned Parenthood Arizona’s Director of Education Vicki Hadd-Wissler, M.A.

Young people born in the 1980s belong to the first generation to have never known a world without HIV and AIDS. The numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are alarming, with young people between the ages of 13 and 29 accounting for almost 40 percent of new HIV infections in the United States! In Arizona, people ages 25 to 29 had the highest infection rate (28.1 per 100,000), and people ages 20 to 24 come in second with 26.1 per 100,000. It is estimated that 13 percent of those infected with HIV (in all age groups) are unaware they are infected — and, among HIV-positive youth ages 18 to 24, an estimated 44 percent are unaware of their status.


Help the next generation know a world where AIDS no longer poses a threat to a vibrant, healthy future.


National Youth HIV & AIDS Awareness Day (NYHAAD) on April 10 provides an excellent opportunity to discuss the importance of prevention, promote HIV testing, and help reduce the stigma often associated with HIV and STDs in general.

First organized in 2013 by Advocates for Youth, NYHAAD is intended to serve as an annual wake-up call to organize and educate young people about HIV and AIDS, and press leaders for investments in medical advancements and prevention strategies. The observance has received less attention nationally this year than in past years — no doubt due to the need to focus on saving the Affordable Care Act. But we can still be activists on the issue of HIV awareness. All of us have a young person(s) in our lives who we care deeply about. Let’s mark our calendars for April 10 as a day to commit to having a conversation with them to share important, life-enhancing information. Continue reading

Meet Our Candidates: Jana Lynn Granillo for Special Health Care District 1

The Arizona general election will be held on November 8, 2016. Reproductive health care access has been under attack, both nationally and statewide, but Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona has endorsed candidates who have shown strong commitment to reproductive justice. To acquaint you with our endorsed candidates, we are running a series called “Meet Our Candidates.” In order to vote in the election, you must have been registered to vote by October 10. Make your voice heard in 2016!

granillo-scaledIn 1876, a small hospital was built in a dusty new town called Phoenix. After many name and location changes, that hospital became Maricopa Integrated Health System, which has been standing at its current site since 1971 and has been known by its current name since 1991.

As a public hospital, MIHS helps expand health-care access to all county residents — a valuable resource in a county in which nearly 20 percent of the population lacks health insurance, according to 2013 census data. MIHS has historically also served marginalized communities — in 1989, it launched Maricopa County’s first HIV specialty clinic; 2008 saw the opening of the Refugee Women’s Health Clinic; and more recently the hospital began offering treatment to transgender patients. As a teaching hospital, MIHS also serves as a training ground for the next generation of health-care providers.


“Each person’s health is complicated and unique.”


Since 2003, Maricopa County has been divided into five Special Health Care Districts, each of which is represented by an elected board member. District 1, which includes Tempe, is located in the southeastern corner of the county, and it is this district that our endorsed candidate, Jana Lynn Granillo, seeks to represent. She will bring her impressive background in public health to the boardroom, and use her experience in public relations to do more effective outreach to Maricopa County residents.

Ms. Granillo was kind enough to answer our questions on October 18, 2016.

Tell us little about your background.

I am a Latina who was born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona, a graduate of Carl Hayden High School, ASU alum, a U.S. Air Force veteran with two honorable discharges (active duty and Air National Guard), a retiree from the state of Arizona (Department of Economic Security and Arizona Department of Health Services), a public health professional, former board member of Arizona Public Health Association, member of eLatina Voices, school volunteer, an advocate, a mother, a wife, a Tempe resident, and member of the community. Continue reading

AIDS at 35: The Anniversary of the First Report on a Mysterious New Disease

mmwrOn June 5, 1981 — 35 years ago this Sunday — the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a report with an inauspicious title: “Pneumocystis Pneumonia — Los Angeles.” Nestled between pieces on dengue and measles, the article in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report briefly described five patients, all young men from Los Angeles with cases of life-threatening pneumonia. While it didn’t immediately grab headlines, its publication represented a turning point in public health: the beginning of the AIDS era.


In another 35 years, will AIDS be a fading memory?


These patients’ pneumonia had been caused by a particular species of fungus, which back then was responsible for fewer than 100 pneumonia cases annually. Young, healthy people weren’t supposed to be vulnerable to this fungal infection, and the fact that men with no known risk factors were suddenly falling victim to it was a huge red flag that something strange was afoot.

The patients shared other characteristics as well, and at that point, scientists could only speculate what, if any, of these traits were associated with the strange new disease. All five patients were “active homosexuals,” were positive for cytomegalovirus (CMV), had yeast infections, ranged in age from 29 to 36, and used inhalant drugs (aka “poppers”). The CDC knew right away that this mysterious cluster of illnesses must have been caused by “a common exposure that predisposes individuals to opportunistic infections” — an observation that, in hindsight, was incredibly accurate, as HIV destroys the immune system and opens its host to normally rare infections. The editors posited that “some aspect of a homosexual lifestyle” might increase risk for this type of pneumonia — perhaps a sexually transmitted disease that somehow caused pneumonia. Continue reading