STD Awareness: The Curious Case of Chancroid

Haemophilus ducreyi arrange themselves in parallel rows, which researchers have called “railroad tracks,” “schools of fish,” and “fingerprints.” Image: Mike Miller, CDC

Earlier this year, I asked a room full of scientists and medical professionals to raise their hands if they’d ever heard of chancroid. Everyone sat there, motionless, confused by the odd syllables I had uttered — shan kroyd. If you’ve never heard of chancroid, you’re not alone.

Chancroid is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) brought to you by Haemophilus ducreyi, a type of bacteria that can pass through microscopic tears in the skin during sexual contact. When one partner is infected, there is a 1 in 3 chance the other will become infected. An infection can cause painful sores and swollen lymph nodes, most often in the genital region. About half of people with chancroid infections will experience “buboes,” or swollen lymph glands that might rupture. Before it could be cured with antibiotics, a persistent infection could cause permanent skin damage.


Humanity can make chancroid the first STD to go extinct.


One reason you probably haven’t heard of chancroid is that, in the developed world at least, it has mostly disappeared. In fact, researchers believe chancroid can be completely wiped off the planet — which would make it the first STD ever to be forced into extinction. How amazing would that be?

Chancroid has been hopping from loin to loin since at least the days of the ancient Greeks, and was common until the 20th century, when rates began to decline. Thanks to antibiotics, U.S. chancroid rates decreased 80-fold between 1947 and 1997, all but vanishing by the late 1950s. It was virtually unheard of until there was another spike in the 1980s, correlating with the crack epidemic. But, since 1987, cases have been steadily declining. Continue reading

STD Awareness: Is Gonorrhea Becoming “Impossible” to Treat?

Image: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease

Health authorities have been worried about it for a long time now, and we’ve been following it on our blog since 2012. The boogeyman? Antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea, a strain of the sexually transmitted bacteria that is becoming more and more difficult to treat. Higher doses of the drug will be needed to cure stubborn cases of gonorrhea — until the doses can no longer be increased. Then, untreatable gonorrhea could be a reality.


“Little now stands between us and untreatable gonorrhea.”


The World Health Organization (WHO), in a press release last month, finally used the word “impossible” when describing treatment of antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea, referring to documented cases of gonorrhea that were “untreatable by all known antibiotics.” Worse, these cases are thought to be the proverbial “tip of the iceberg,” as there aren’t good data on antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea in many developing countries, where gonorrhea is more prevalent and epidemics could be spreading under the radar. Adding to this problem is the fact that gonorrhea rates are climbing worldwide, which is thought to be due to a number of factors, including the decline in condom use, the frequent absence of symptoms, inadequate treatment, and increasing urbanization and travel.

What will happen if gonorrhea can’t be cured? Your infection could clear up on its own, after a lengthy battle with your immune system, but we don’t know a lot about how long this could take (weeks? months? never?). Unfortunately, despite your immune system’s best efforts, gonorrhea doesn’t go out without a fight. Gonorrhea can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, which can cause tissue damage to the reproductive organs resulting in infertility, ectopic pregnancy, and chronic pain. It can also cause scarring that blocks sperm’s movement out of the testes, resulting in epididymitis, which is associated with infertility, chronic scrotal pain, and testicular shrinkage. Furthermore, gonorrhea increases risk for HIV transmission and can be passed to a baby during childbirth. The CDC estimates that, in the United States alone, untreatable gonorrhea could cause 75,000 cases of pelvic inflammatory disease, 15,000 cases of epididymitis, and 222 extra HIV infections over a 10-year period. Worldwide, where gonorrhea and HIV disproportionately affect developing countries, these problems could get even more out of control. Continue reading

Meet Our Candidates: Felicia Chew for Tucson City Council Ward 3

The Arizona primary election will be held on August 29, 2017. 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. In order to vote in the primary election, you must be registered to vote by July 31 (today!). Early voting begins on August 2. Make your voice heard in 2017!

Felicia ChewFelicia Chew was the first candidate to enter the race for Tucson’s Ward 3 after its long-serving councilwoman, Karin Uhlich, announced last year that she would not seek reelection. Ms. Chew has served her community as a teacher for more than 20 years, most recently at Mansfeld Middle School, and has also been active in the community as an advocate for mental health, environmental sustainability, and education. Now Chew is seeking to enter politics as a new way to be a voice for her neighbors and community, including those who are too often underrepresented, as the city councilwoman for Ward 3, which covers the city’s northwest area.


“I will never stop fighting for reproductive rights and health care for all Tucsonans.”


Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona announced its endorsement of Felicia Chew earlier this month, and Ms. Chew generously took time for an interview with us on July 25, 2017, to tell us more about her background and her campaign.

Tell us a little about your background.

I am a first-generation Chinese-American daughter of immigrant parents. I am a teacher, a single mother, and an advocate. I’ve been a teacher for over 20 years and have always taught my students about how to be responsible citizens, complex thinkers, and effective communicators. As a survivor of domestic violence, I want to ensure survivors in Tucson have all the resources they need. As a single mom, I want to help working families like mine by implementing and expanding programs that make our lives better. I am running for city council to advocate for and amplify the voices of my neighbors and each of us in Tucson. Continue reading

STD Awareness: Do IUDs and Implants Prevent STDs?

Highly effective birth control methods, namely intrauterine devices (IUDs) and implants, have received a lot of well-deserved attention in recent years. They are as effective at preventing pregnancy as permanent sterilization, but can be stopped at any time, and can last from three to 12 years. They are the contraceptive of choice for female family-planning providers, who should know a thing or two about choosing an optimal birth control method. They are fantastic options for teenagers and others hoping to delay pregnancy for at least a few years. And the best news is that, for now anyway, these pricey birth control methods are still available at no cost to Americans covered by Medicaid or health insurance.


For the best protection against unintended pregnancy and STDs, combine condoms with IUDs or contraceptive implants.


If IUDs and implants prevented sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), they would pretty much be perfect — but, alas, like most forms of birth control, they don’t protect you from viruses, bacteria, and other bugs that can be passed from person to person through sex. To reduce their risk for STD exposure, sexually active people must employ other strategies, including (1) being in a mutually monogamous relationship with a person who does not have STDs; (2) being vaccinated before becoming sexually active to receive protection from hepatitis B virus and human papillomavirus (HPV), two sexually transmitted viruses; and, last but definitely not least, (3) condoms, condoms, condoms!

A study published this month looked at college students using IUDs and implants and found that most of them didn’t use condoms the last time they had vaginal sex — 57 percent of women who were not using IUDs or implants used a condom, compared to only 24 percent of women who were using IUDs or implants. That’s not too surprising if pregnancy prevention were the only concern, but condoms are an important addition for anyone seeking to reduce their STD risk. 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: 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