Minority Health: Its Importance Here and Now

In April 2001, the National Minority Quality Forum, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization founded to eliminate health disparities, launched National Minority Health Month. The next year, it received Congressional support in House Concurrent Resolution 388, which resolved that National Minority Health Month should be observed “to promote educational efforts on the health problems currently facing minorities and other health disparity populations.”

Income inequality is the most significant cause of racial and ethnic health disparities.

The term health disparity is a broad term that refers to preventable differences in health between segments of society as a result of unequal access to health care, underfunded schools (which result in lower health literacy), discrimination, or other disadvantages. Racial and ethnic minorities, LGBTQ individuals, and low-income socioeconomic groups are typically the focus of health disparities research. It’s a broad area of study, but to stay within the focus of this blog, a look at reproductive health among Arizona’s racial and ethnic minorities can be a good place to start. Continue reading

Pro-Choice Friday News Rundown

  • In case you hadn’t heard, Arizona’s new abortion law is horrendous. (RH Reality Check)
  • Arizona has also passed a craptacular contraception bill that would allow employers with “religious objections to birth control” to opt out of the state’s requirement that health plans cover contraception. (ABC15)
  • Since we’re on such a roll discussing how much things suck in Arizona — it should also be noted that we have some surly, rude, wildly unprofessional lawmakers in this state. (NARAL)
  • Surprisingly, Arizona did not make Jezebel’s list of the 10 scariest places to have ladyparts in the United States. (Jezebel)
  • FYI: Childbirth = WAY more dangerous than abortion by pill. (Minn Post)
  • How the War on Women Became Mainstream (TruthOut)
  • Provocative new research might help explain why black women are so much more likely than whites to develop and die from cervical cancer: They seem to have more trouble clearing HPV, the virus that causes the disease. (MSNBC)
  • A teen wellness clinic inside a Virginia high school distributes birth control and emergency contraception — and something crazy happened — pregnancy rates have dropped! (USA Today)
  • Why Are 17-Year-Olds Being Denied the Morning After Pill? (Fox Charlotte)
  • A handy guide to Mitt Romney’s flip-flop on abortion. (Slate)
  • A pill that could prevent the transmission of HIV? Let the testing begin! (Boston Herald)

STD Awareness: Genital Warts

A computer model of the surface of HPV-11, a leading cause of genital warts. Image: Scripps Research Institute

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a hot topic these days thanks to the advent — and attendant controversy — of Gardasil, the vaccine that protects against four strains of this sexually transmitted virus. Discourse centers around HPV-16 and HPV-18, the two HPV strains that together are responsible for 70 percent of cervical cancers and 90 percent of anal cancers. However, Gardasil also protects against HPV-6 and HPV-11, two HPV strains that aren’t associated with cancer but rather with 90 percent of genital warts. While genital warts don’t have the potential to cause cancer and death, they can be very upsetting to the people who develop them.

Every year in the United States, about $200 million is spent to treat genital warts.

Many strains of human papillomavirus can cause warts, and not all of them are sexually transmitted. For instance, HPV-1, HPV-2, and HPV-4 cause warts on the hands and feet and are spread by skin-to-skin contact. About 40 strains of HPV can be transmitted sexually — they are called “mucosal” strains because of their affinity for mucous membranes such as the skin found in the genital, anal, and oral regions. Ninety percent of cases of genital warts are caused by two strains of HPV: HPV-6 and HPV-11. Genital warts are highly contagious and can be transmitted by any type of sexual activity.

Let’s start with a quick overview of genital warts. While it’s quite possible for someone infected with a wart-causing strain of HPV to be completely asymptomatic, the physical appearance of warts can take several forms. They can appear in the genital area, in or around the anus, and (very rarely) in the mouth, lips, palate, or throat. They can also rarely be found on the cervix and vaginal walls. They are soft to the touch and can be raised, flat, or bumpy. They may or may not be itchy or painful. Genital warts can be small or quite large. As you can see, there are a wide variety of ways they can manifest themselves, despite being caused by one type of virus. There are four types:

  • condylomata acuminata, which have a “cauliflower-like” appearance
  • papular warts, which are dome-shaped papules 1-4 millimeters in diameter
  • keratotic warts, which have a thick, “crust-like” layer
  • flat-topped papules, which can look like a freckle or might be slightly raised from the surface of the skin

Genital warts usually develop within six weeks to six months after exposure, but could take longer to appear. If our immune systems are healthy, our bodies may be able to fight off the virus — our immune systems are normally able to clear 90 percent of genital-wart infections within two years of exposure. Unfortunately, if the immune system can’t fight off the virus, the infection will become chronic, in which case warts can resurface throughout one’s lifetime. The warts can be removed by a doctor, but you could still transmit the virus to others and you might experience a recurrence of the warts. Smokers’ immune systems are less likely to be able to fight off the infection, and in the case of a chronic infection, smokers’ warts are more likely to return even after being removed by a health care provider. Continue reading

Practicing Safer Sex

Everyone who is sexually active is at risk for getting a sexually transmitted disease (STD). In fact, STDs seem so widespread that some health organizations predict nearly everyone could have an STD in their lifetime. The Guttmacher Institute reports that each year 1 in 4 teens contracts an STD. Untreated STDs can cause chronic conditions that could ultimately lead to infertility.

Practicing safe sex allows you to reduce your risks of getting an STD. Safe sex is not intended to eliminate spontaneity and passion, but is a way of enjoying sex without giving or getting STDs. It shows respect for yourself and your partner, and it must be practiced each and every time you have a sexual encounter.

Some ideas to make sex safer for you and your partner: Continue reading

Over 90 Percent of What Planned Parenthood Does, Part 3: STD Testing

Welcome to the latest installment of “Over 90 Percent of What Planned Parenthood Does,” a series on Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona’s blog that highlights Planned Parenthood’s diverse array of services — the ones Jon Kyl doesn’t know about.

What is a sexually transmitted disease (STD)? It’s an infection that you receive or transmit through unprotected sexual contact. It can happen with one encounter or with multiple partners. Sometimes people say, “I’m a virgin, how can I get an STD?” These infectious diseases may be transmitted to another person through kissing or direct skin-to-skin contact, as well as bodily fluids such as blood, semen, or vaginal and cervical secretions.

More than half of us will have an STD at some point.

There’s no doubt about it, sexually transmitted diseases are a risk for anyone who is sexually active. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that there are 19 million new infections reported each year, and almost half of them are among young people ages 15 to 24. The Guttmacher Institute states that by the age of 17, most teens have had intercourse (vaginal sex). Arizona Department of Health reports show that our rates of chlamydia are increasing and gonorrhea and syphilis rates are remaining fairly steady, especially among teens and young adults. The American Social Health Association says that more than half of all people will contract an STD at some point in their lives.

Left untreated, STDs can create health problems for those infected. Untreated chlamydia and gonorrhea can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, increased chances of tubal pregnancies, and chronic pelvic pain. In the worst-case scenario, these infections can lead to permanent infertility. Continue reading

STDs 101: An Introduction to Sexually Transmitted Diseases

Coupons for STD-screening discounts in April 2014 are available here.

It’s April, which for Arizonans means a gradual increase in temperature as we head toward summer. But at Planned Parenthood Arizona it also means that it’s time to focus on sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) in observance of STD Awareness Month. While we regularly provide information about sexual health with our monthly STD Awareness series, April is the time of year to fix the spotlight on sexually transmissible microbes and the infections they cause. April is also the time of year when Planned Parenthood Arizona offers coupons for discounted STD screening, so if you’ve been putting it off, now’s the time!

Symptoms of Sexually Transmitted Diseases

First, some basic facts. STDs can be transmitted through all sexual activities — vaginal, anal, or oral sex, as well as activities involving skin-to-skin contact. STDs are most commonly caused by viruses or bacteria, though they can be caused by other agents as well, including animals! Each STD is unique, with unique symptoms, but common symptoms include:

  • rashes, open sores, blisters, or warts in the genital area
  • swelling or tenderness
  • pus, bleeding, odor, or abnormal discharge
  • itching in the genital region
  • burning sensation during urination

It’s best not to focus too closely on symptoms, though — most people with STDs actually don’t experience any symptoms whatsoever! As they say in the biz, “The most common symptom of an STD is … no symptom.” For example, most people with herpes either have no symptoms or have mild symptoms that go unnoticed. Ten percent of males and 80 percent of females with gonorrhea don’t experience symptoms, and most people with chlamydia are asymptomatic. And HIV symptoms usually take a decade to show up. If you are, or have been, sexually active, you can’t assume that the absence of symptoms means you’re in the clear. To know for sure if you have an STD, the best thing you can do is to get yourself tested. Continue reading

Book Club: The Origins of AIDS

The Origins of AIDS
By Jacques Pepin

Cambridge University Press, 2011

Most sexually transmitted diesases go back thousands of years. Gonorrhea, for example, was first described by a Greek physician in A.D. 150, and pubic lice have been evolving right along with us since before we became Homo sapiens. This might have been one reason why it was such a shock when a strange new virus came to our attention in the early 1980s. We soon discovered that it was transmitted sexually and through infected blood, but where did it come from?

We have intriguing evidence that HIV as we know it has been in existence since at least the 1930s.

HIV has been around since before the 1980s, though it remained unnoticed and unidentified by medical science. The earliest confirmed case of HIV was in 1959, the proof found in a sample of blood from the Belgian Congo, saved in a freezer for decades and later analyzed for the virus. Other early cases of HIV infection that have retrospectively been confirmed include that of a Norwegian sailor, who must have been infected while visiting African ports in the early 1960s. He, his wife, and his child (who was apparently congenitally infected) all died in 1976, and their tissues were tested 12 years later and found positive for HIV.

Jacques Pepin — a professor and microbiologist, not to be confused with the chef of the same name — does some serious detective work to find the most plausible explanation for HIV’s origins. While he doesn’t skimp on the science, the story of AIDS’ origins can’t be told without getting into the history of Europe’s colonization of Africa in the 20th century. This period, followed by the era of post-colonization, found many societies in upheaval. Urbanization, unemployment, and migration facilitated the spread of HIV in Africa during much of the 1900s, and once it left the continent it was able to hitch a ride from host to host, traveling the world. Continue reading