Wednesday April 16, 2014
I got a lovely e-mail the other day from a young man who was thinking about having sex for the first time and had a few questions. The questions were good ones, but what I found particularly interesting was that he'd talked to his parents about his concerns and they told him that they "didn't know of any history of STDs in the family." On one hand, I thought it was great that he could talk to his parents about this type of decision. I wish more parents and teens were comfortable enough having "the talk" in a way that could actually empower young people to make positive, active choices about whether or not they want to have sex. However, the message they gave with that one statement was highly problematic. Saying they didn't know of a history of STDs implied:
- That they'd know if either one of them had an STD, presumably without testing
- That STDs are the sort of things that run in families, rather than being behaviorally acquired
- That testing isn't something they think about, or talk about, even when their teen is bringing sexual health questions to them
Talking to teens about sex is a wonderful thing, but the conversation should be about more than whether the teen is ready, emotionally, to engage in vaginal sex or any other form of sexual activity. That's a huge part of it, but so is talking about protection -- not just in the sense of using condoms, but in terms of knowing what the risks of sex are and how to evaluate which of them someone is willing to take in any given circumstance. That includes a recognition that many STDs have no symptoms, and you can't tell if someone has an infection just by looking at them or asking if it hurts when they pee. You have to ask them about testing, and they have to actually know what they've had done.
Monday April 14, 2014
In an absolutely brilliantly conceived event to improve STD testing
on campus, the University of Calgary
Student Wellness Center organized a "Pee in a Cup
" event to see if they could break the world record for the number of individuals getting STD tested at the same time. Although it will take the Guinness book a little while to confirm whether they officially
succeeded, they definitely won a moral victory. The event got over 500 students to come in and get tested for gonorrhea
, two STDs that are quite common among college aged youth. That's an impressive feat, but I want to challenge as many colleges and universities as possible to try and repeat it. If they got 520, someone should go for 600! Then 700! Then 1000! The best thing for student wellness centers is that even if they don't break the record, they still win. Getting students through the door for STD testing can be quite a challenge, and every one who comes in for testing is a form of success.
Friday April 11, 2014
It was approximately 5 year ago that Farrah Fawcett, actress and pinup, died of anal cancer. Now, the Farrah Fawcett foundation is supporting research to help improve the lives of others affected by HPV-related cancers. It's a great legacy for the movie star, who helped raise awareness of the role of HPV in non-cervical cancers before she died, and whose foundation continues to work to increase awareness of anal cancers in women and men.
Anal cancers are most commonly seen in gay men, due to the association with HPV infection and anal sex, but they can affect anyone. Unfortunately, screening is rare even for high risk populations. An anal Pap smear is available, and minimally invasive; it's just not widely recommended or used. Fortunately, as with all HPV-related cancers, there are risk-reduction options. Two HPV vaccines are now available and consistently using barriers for anal, oral, and vaginal sex is also an effective way to lower the risk of virus transmission.
Wednesday April 9, 2014
A study looking at the health of HIV positive kidney transplant patients after transplantation may have accidentally stumbled onto something quite interesting. Their research, which was recently published in the American Journal of Transplantation, suggests that an anti-rejection drug and immunosuppressant known as sirolimus may have reduced patients' viral reservoir when it was given to them after transplantation. Over time, patients on the drugs saw a decrease in the number of HIV infected blood cells seen in their bodies. This suggests that the ways in which sirolimus modulates the immune system may have been able to impact the health of the viral reservoir, a possibility which had been previously brought up by other in vitro studies.
If it turns out that such a hypothesis is correct, it could open an entirely new area of HIV treatment research. However, first these results need to be confirmed. The transplantation study wasn't actually designed to look at how sirolimus affected the course of HIV disease. It was just fortunate that the researchers had the data to reanalyze when other researchers suggested that sirolimus might be a new way to attack the virus.