STD Awareness: Is There a Vaccine for Syphilis?

Before antibiotics, syphilis was the most feared sexually transmitted disease (STD) out there. It was easy to get, quack cures were ineffective and often unpleasant, and it could lead to blindness, disfigurement, dementia, and even death. Syphilis rates were highest during World War II, and plummeted when penicillin became widely available later in the 1940s. By 2000, syphilis rates hit an all-time low, and many scientists thought the United States was at the dawn of the complete elimination of syphilis.

What a difference an antibiotic makes. Image: CDC

Unfortunately, it soon became apparent that syphilis wasn’t ready to go out without a fight. Since 2000, syphilis rates have nearly quadrupled, climbing from 2.1 to 7.5 per 100,000 people by 2015 — the highest they have been since 1994. If you look at the above graph, you might think syphilis rates have been pretty stable over the past 20 years — but if you zoom in, the fact that we’re in the midst of an epidemic becomes more clear.

After hitting an all-time low in 2000, syphilis rates have been increasing nearly every year since.

The epidemic is disproportionately affecting men who have sex with men (MSM), with Arizona seeing a higher-than-average syphilis rate in this group. Additionally, syphilis rates are climbing among women, who have seen a 27 percent bump between 2014 and 2015. And, since women can carry both syphilis and pregnancies, a rise in syphilis in this population also means a rise congenital syphilis (the transmission of syphilis from mother to fetus), which causes miscarriages, stillbirths, preterm births, neonatal death, and birth defects. Ocular syphilis — that is, syphilis infections that spread to the eyes and can lead to blindness — is also on the rise.

Men, women, babies — no one is immune to the grasp of syphilis. Continue reading

Pro-Choice Friday News Rundown

  • The POTUS, who is so pro-life he hasn’t fostered or adopted any children in need, has signed legislation that allows states to withhold federal Title X funds for family planning services from clinics that also provide abortions. But thankfully, the change won’t impact Arizona. (AZ Central)
  • For women in other states: Please know, we are listening and we know what’s at stake for all of you. We’re fighting. (Bustle)
  • Impoverished minority women will be ESPECIALLY endangered by this legislation: 80 percent of women who rely on Title X funding are well below the poverty line, and 21 percent are black and 32 percent are Latina. (Ebony)
  • Will absolutely all of my rundowns during this bleak era of GOP dominion include yet another story about how they’re trying their best to dismantle the Affordable Care Act and make us all poorer and sicker and closer to death so rich people can have tax cuts? Signs point to “yes.” (WaPo)
  • The list of the 25 cities with the highest STD rates doesn’t include anywhere in Arizona. Let’s keep it that way? (Insider Monkey)
  • California could be the first state in the country to require its public universities to offer abortion pills on campuses. (Mercury News)
  • Attorneys general from 16 states came out Thursday in support of a Planned Parenthood lawsuit challenging an Ohio law that would deny state and federal funds to organizations providing abortions. (HuffPo)
  • The zero-copay birth control we’ve come to enjoy via Obamacare is still the “law of the land,” but for how much longer? (Rewire)
  • Why does America offer only five versions of the IUD when Britain has 22??? (The Atlantic)
  • Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, who is so pro-life he hasn’t fostered or adopted any children in need, got his you-know-what handed to him by constituents at his town hall last week! (AZ Central)
  • Television is a treasure trove of lies. Abortion depicted on the small screen is 20 times deadlier than in real life, where it’s actually safer for the woman than childbirth. (Slate)
  • New Maryland Bill Would Require Domestic Abusers to Wear GPS Trackers. (NY Mag)
  • Maryland is on a roll! Victims In Maryland No Longer Have To Prove They “Fought Back” For Their Rapes To Be Crimes. (HuffPo)
  • With all of the “out and proud” anti-choice zealots in our government who are proud to admit they think women should be forced to give birth whether they wish to or not, the last thing we need is a phony, wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing turncoat like Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner. He claimed to be pro-choice on the campaign trail in 2013, so why in the hell is he now indicating he will veto a bill protecting the right to choose and permitting coverage of abortion in state health plans and Medicaid? Can the pro-choice voters of Illinois spearhead a gubernatorial recall over this? (Rewire)
  • It would do Gov. Rauner a lot of good to remember that abortion is a matter of economic life or death for women and use the power of his office to help rather than hurt the economic fates of women. (Rewire)
  • “Dystopian” doesn’t even BEGIN to describe how the world would look without Planned Parenthood. (HuffPo)

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

Pro-Choice Friday News Rundown

  • Our smarmy Vice President Mike Pence was all too eager to cast the tie-breaking Senate vote to advance legislation allowing states the right to block Title X funds from going to Planned Parenthood. In case you missed my January analysis of his anti-life legislative record, this guy is the absolute worst. He’s PLINO — “pro-life in name ONLY” — as he backs policies that do nothing to help the well-being of children or families. This move will only hurt the scores of low-income women who depend on us for care. (Politico)
  • The horrendous “born alive” bill I covered in the last rundown was passed by our wretched legislators. It now heads to Gov. Ducey’s desk. (AZ Central)
  • Planned Parenthood has a real asset in our president, Cecile Richards. She’s calling out Ivanka Trump bigly in a recent interview. By the way — Ms. Richards will be at our annual luncheon in Phoenix on April 13! (Buzzfeed)
  • North Carolina’s preposterously cruel “bathroom bill” continues to make news. The law stands to cost the state a cool $3.76 billion in revenue. And, according to this article, “that number will increase by hundreds of millions of dollars if the NCAA follows through on the threat it made last week to block the state from hosting any events through 2022. The NCAA is making those placement decisions this week.” Lawmakers there have apparently reached a deal to repeal it, but the LGBTQ community has valid concerns about the initiative doubling down on discrimination and not protecting people from discrimination until 2020. (HuffPo)
  • Trumpcare may have gone down in a blaze of not-glory last week, but here are seven ways the Trump Administration could make the Affordable Care Act “explode.” Ugh. (NBC News)
  • But hey, maybe there’s a possibility we could achieve the dream of a single-payer/universal health care system soon? (NYT)
  • Just a reminder: SCOTUS nominee Neil Gorsuch has an ABYSMAL record on women’s issues. (NBC News)
  • No Baby Should Be Born With HIV. What Will It Take to Save Them All? (Time)
  • The question I constantly ask myself: Why has it become so hard to get an abortion??? (The New Yorker)
  • In 105 counties, Planned Parenthood is the only full-service birth control clinic! (Vox)
  • Women’s Health has a great post on how to communicate your STD status to a potential partner. (Women’s Health)
  • Lifehacker has a very informative post on individual state laws that is a MUST for bookmarking to keep up with the kajillion harebrained schemes being plotted by lawmakers nationwide. (Lifehacker)
  • Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who is sooooo pro-life he hasn’t bothered to adopt or foster ANY children in need, has signed new legislation that forces doctors to “investigate” the backgrounds of their patients seeking abortions. If doctors fail at this oppressive task, they could face prison. (Bustle)
  • Surprise, surprise — states with the most Planned Parenthood clinics have lower rates of teen births and STDs. (Glamour)
  • The two yahoos who tried to destroy Planned Parenthood with unlawfully recorded, heavily edited recordings are facing 15 felony charges. Hope they follow the yellow brick road right to prison! (Rewire)
  • Get a load of this bulls****: The state of Iowa was considering a bill that would allow the parents of INDEPENDENT, SINGLE, ADULT WOMEN to make medical decisions for them with regard to abortion. (Raw Story)
  • Forced-birth advocate, opponent of the ACA’s zero-copay birth control requirement, and first-class dummy John Fleming has been tapped as deputy assistant secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. Fleming, who is also sooooo pro-life he hasn’t bothered to adopt or foster ANY children in need (according to my research), was duped by an Onion satire article that reported Planned Parenthood was opening an $8 billion “abortion-plex” complete with a theater and water slide. (Jezebel)
  • Another awful appointment to the Department of Health and Human Services? Roger Severino — an anti-LGBTQ activist who’s spoken out against protections for LGBTQ individuals. He’ll now be comfy and cozy in the department’s Office of Civil Rights. #FacePalm (LGBTQ Nation)
  • If you’ve taken comfort in the fact that you have private health insurance and may not be affected by some of the nonsense going on with the ACA, please take discomfort in the fact that the GOP wants to restrict private insurance from covering abortion too. (Guttmacher)
  • I really appreciated this post via Cosmo that expounds upon why there is no economic justice for women without abortion rights. We can never really be whole, autonomous, independent, upwardly mobile persons without the right to control our own bodies, and it is NOT a coincidence that women and children are more likely to suffer from poverty than men. Our fates are inextricably linked to our reproductive choices, and the lack thereof. (Cosmopolitan)
  • I’ll leave you with a laugh, Dear Readers. A recent survey showed that 52 percent of men don’t believe women’s affordable access to birth control has EVER affected their lives. HAHAHA! Ninety-nine percent of women have used birth control, correct? So, what planet are these imbeciles living on??? Aren’t most of these respondents heterosexual, non-virgin men??? Ladies, try to resist the urge to call up all your male exes to demand a THANK YOU ON BEHALF OF YOUR BIRTH CONTROL for not making them fathers. Or, on second thought … maybe we should have a nationwide phone bank to do just that! The turnout would be bigger than the Women’s March. #DialMeIn (HuffPo)

STD Awareness: The Surprising Sexual Transmission of Non-STDs

What is a sexually transmitted disease, or STD? If someone catches their partner’s cold during sex, is that cold an STD? According to the Office on Women’s Health, an STD is “an infection passed from one person to another person through sexual contact.” Unless the cold was passed through sexual contact, rather than mouth-to-mouth contact, it would not be considered an STD. Others say that, for an infection to be considered an STD, its sexual transmission must make it significantly more common in the population. So, a disease like the common cold would probably be just as common even if people never had sex.


MRSA, meningitis, and the virus that causes pinkeye can be transmitted sexually.


However, there are some infections, such as hepatitis C or bacterial vaginosis, whose status as official STDs is controversial. While researchers argue with one another over where to draw the line between an STD and a non-STD, let’s take a look at some bacteria and viruses that can be transmitted sexually, even though they’re not officially categorized as “STDs.”

MRSA: Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus

MRSA bursting out of a dead blood cell. Image: Frank DeLeo, NIAID

MRSA bursting out of a dead blood cell. Image: Frank DeLeo, NIAID

You’ve probably heard of MRSA, which is pronounced “mersa” and stands for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus — a strain of bacteria that is resistant to every antibiotic in the penicillin family, as well as others. S. aureus, or “staph” for short, is the same bacteria responsible for TSS, or toxic shock syndrome, which has most infamously been associated with the use of highly absorbent tampons. But mostly, staph is a common cause of skin infections, which could be deadly in the pre-antibiotic era, but these days usually don’t raise too many eyebrows.

Unfortunately, with the emergence of MRSA, which is difficult to treat with the usual drugs, we might once again have to worry about minor skin infections blossoming into life-threatening conditions. Additionally, MRSA has found a way to hop from person to person via sexual contact, and sexually transmitted MRSA has been documented in both heterosexual and MSM (men who have sex with men) populations. Untreated, it can lead to a form of gangrene in which tissue blackens as it dies. Continue reading

STD Awareness: Shaving, Waxing, and Trimming, Oh My!

Last month, the connection between body-hair removal and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) once again gave rise to a flurry of headlines. Media had previously reported on “studies” purporting that the popularity of waxing is leading to the extinction of pubic lice, or that shaving increases risk for a little-known STD called molluscum contagiosum.

The idea that waxing one’s nether regions is tantamount to habitat destruction for the lowly pubic louse makes a certain amount of sense. But was it really true that waxing was leading to diminished pubic-lice populations, or just a case of the media blowing an obscure medical factoid out of proportion? Ditto with the claims about molluscum contagiosum — though they were based on perfectly plausible premises, having to do with shaving causing microscopic skin injuries that create openings for infectious viruses, the average reader might not have been able to rely on a journalist’s ability to translate a scientific article from “medical-ese” into an easy-to-understand, yet fully nuanced, magazine blurb.


The case isn’t closed on the link between body-hair removal and STDs.


As we’ve written before, the reporting in the popular media left out important details — such as the fact that these weren’t studies at all, but rather educated guesses based on observations, published as letters to the editor. No one was comparing pubic lice infestations or sexually transmitted infections between groups of people with and without pubic hair.

Until now.

The medical journal Sexually Transmitted Infections recently published a study based on a survey of 7,470 American adults who had had at least one sexual partner. The salient point the media pounced on was that removing pubic hair increases STD risk by 400 percent: NPR screamed that “Going Bare Down There May Boost The Risk Of STDs,” Time proclaimed “Grooming is linked to a higher risk of STIs,” and The Guardian spooked readers with a rather tasteless piece about “the health dangers of bikini waxing.” Even Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update got in on the action, albeit with a crude joke about old men’s genitals.

But let’s leave headlines behind and delve right into the medical journal itself. Continue reading

STD Awareness: Fully Antibiotic-Resistant Gonorrhea Is on the Horizon

shot-in-armWe’ve been anticipating its arrival for years now, but earlier this fall, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) finally made an announcement: Cases of gonorrhea resistant to the last drugs we use to cure it are emerging.

Over the years, gonorrhea has evolved resistance to every drug we’ve thrown at it — sulfonamides, penicillins, tetracyclines, macrolides, fluoroquinolones, and narrow-spectrum cephalosporins. The last line of defense we have is a one-two punch of a pair of antibiotics: azithromycin and ceftriaxone. By using two drugs, we can delay the inevitable evolution of antibiotic resistance by attacking the bacteria in two vulnerable locations, rather than just one, making it more difficult for the bug to mount a defense and pass on its superior survival skills to subsequent generations.


Prevention is paramount: Stop the spread of antibiotic resistance by practicing safer sex!


Unfortunately, we could only stave off the inevitable for so long. At their conference in September, the CDC announced a cluster of gonorrhea infections that are highly resistant to azithromycin, and that fall prey only to high doses of ceftriaxone. As gonorrhea’s tolerance to ceftriaxone increases, the infection will get more and more difficult to cure.

This cluster of drug-resistant cases was identified in Honolulu in April and May of this year, with five infections showing “dramatic” resistance to azithromycin, as well as reduced vulnerability to ceftriaxone. The good news is that these cases were cured with higher-than-usual doses of antibiotics, but the bad news is that dosages can only climb so high before a drug is no longer considered to be an effective treatment. Continue reading