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

Can Yogurt Prevent Yeast Infections?

Yogurt has a reputation for preventing yeast infections. But is this reputation deserved?

Yogurt has a reputation for preventing yeast infections. But is this reputation deserved?

Yeast infections are common conditions that can pop up in many areas of the human body, including the vulvovaginal region. They are usually caused by a fungus called Candida albicans, which starts to grow profusely, leading to the white discharge associated with yeast infections. Fungi are not killed by antibiotics, which are only effective against bacteria. As such, yeast infections may be encouraged when their bacterial competitors are wiped out by antibiotics — especially broad-spectrum antibiotics. Candida albicans can also grow on other areas of the body; for instance, when it proliferates in the mouth, the resulting condition is called thrush.


The Lactobacillus species in yogurt are different from those found in the vagina.


The vagina is habitat to bacteria from the Lactobacillus genus, members of which produce lactic acid and sometimes hydrogen peroxide. This helps to inhibit the growth of bacteria that aren’t able to thrive in acidic environments or in the presence of hydrogen peroxide. If you have a vagina, there is about a 10 to 25 percent chance that yours is home to Candida albicans — but this doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll develop a yeast infection. The lactobacilli are usually able to keep C. albicans in check.

Yogurt is often touted as a cure or preventive measure for yeast infections. Yogurt is milk that has been inoculated with bacteria that have been allowed to grow. When the yogurt is being manufactured, it is held at a temperature that allows the bacteria to thrive; when yogurt is kept in the refrigerator, the bacteria don’t die, but they aren’t able to reproduce either. Don’t worry, these bacteria won’t harm you — such bacteria, when used in foods or supplements, are often referred to as “probiotics.” Continue reading

Do I Have a Yeast Infection?

Q: My crotch itches. Do I have a yeast infection?
A: Itching in your groin is one symptom of a yeast infection. So is burning and a white discharge. Sometimes a yeast infection can also cause pain during sexual intercourse. Let’s break it down a little bit more so that you get a better idea of whether you have a yeast infection or not.

Yeast infections can occur in any warm, moist part of your body, including the mouth, the vagina, the anus, the underarms, under the breasts, and under nail beds. However, vaginal yeast infections are the most common type, and many women will get a yeast infection at some point in their lives. According to WebMD:

Yeasts are found in the vagina of most women and can overgrow if the environment in the vagina changes. Antibiotic and steroid use is the most common reason for yeast overgrowth. But pregnancy, menstruation, sperm, diabetes, and birth control pills also can contribute to getting a yeast infection. Yeast infections are more common after menopause.

Since yeast infections are so common, how can they be prevented? Continue reading