Let’s Talk Contraception: New Contraceptives and HIV Protection

This ring, currently under development, can be inserted into the vagina to prevent both pregnancy and HIV transmission. Image: USAID

This ring, currently under development, might reduce risk for both pregnancy and HIV transmission. Image: USAID

The World Health Organization estimated that in 2012 there were 35.3 million people worldwide living with HIV. A whopping 69 percent of them live in sub-Saharan Africa. Save the Children reports that 2 out of 5 children born in developing countries are the result of unintended pregnancies.

Condoms remain the gold standard for protection against HIV transmission. But not all women are able to negotiate condom use. The same can be said for contraceptives. Health-care providers in some areas of the world are not even able to provide condoms consistently due to political or financial pressures.


An intravaginal ring under development might protect against pregnancy, HIV, and genital herpes.


But there are nonprofit groups researching and developing products to meet the needs of women in these countries. With the financial backing of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), CONRAD, a nonprofit committed to improving reproductive health globally, is testing a new intravaginal ring that combines a hormonal contraceptive, levonorgestrel, and an HIV microbicide, tenofovir, in the same product. When inserted vaginally, it slowly dispenses both drugs to prevent pregnancy and HIV transmission. Continue reading

World AIDS Day: The Affordable Care Act Can Help in Creating the Healthiest Generation Ever

HIV_stopEditor’s Note: The following piece is a guest blog post from Planned Parenthood Arizona President and CEO Bryan Howard.

Yesterday was World AIDS Day and this year, as we work to raise awareness around HIV and gather support for those who are living with HIV/AIDS, we should also take a moment to recognize the profound impact that the Affordable Care Act will have on prevention, detection, and treatment of HIV/AIDS.


One in 5 people with HIV is unaware of his or her infection.


With the Affordable Care Act, 1.1 million Americans living with HIV will no longer be denied health insurance coverage because HIV is a “pre-existing condition.” More people living with HIV/AIDS will have access to affordable health insurance coverage to get the care they need, and millions of Americans will have access to preventive health care services that include HIV testing without a co-pay.

There is no doubt that we have come a long way in the fight against HIV/AIDS, especially given the advances of the ACA, yet the epidemic continues to affect millions of people throughout the world with some communities impacted more than others. In the United States, more than 56,000 people become infected with HIV each year. About one-third of new HIV cases are in young people, ages 13 to 29.

According to the Arizona Department of Health Services, there are more than 15,000 Arizonans living with HIV/AIDS with some of the highest rates in Maricopa and Pima counties.

As the largest nonprofit sexual health care provider in Arizona, Planned Parenthood is committed to reducing the impact of the HIV/AIDS epidemic by providing nonjudgmental, comprehensive, high-quality reproductive health care to all women, men, and young people.

Planned Parenthood Arizona has health centers throughout Arizona that provide a range of health care services, including HIV testing, STD testing and treatment, cancer screenings, birth control, vaccinations, and primary care. We also serve as an expert resource in medically accurate sexuality education.

As a trusted health care provider and sexual health educator, we strive to educate women, men, and young people about how to prevent HIV and other STDs. In addition to diligent condom use and regular STD screening, practicing abstinence and having one partner who has no other intimate partners can also help to reduce the risk of getting an STD (including HIV).

So, today I ask you to join Planned Parenthood in fighting for the healthiest generation ever.

About Bryan Howard: Bryan Howard is president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Arizona and a board member at Reproductive Health Technology Project, a Washington, D.C.-based research organization.

STD Awareness: The Latest on Gonorrhea

Neisseria gonorrhoeae, the bacterium that gangs up on your body to give it gonorrhea. Image: CDC

Neisseria gonorrhoeae, the bacterium that gangs up on your body to give it gonorrhea. Image: CDC

Gonorrhea is that guy with the funny name who’s always up to something new and mischievous. Last year, the New England Journal of Medicine declared that it’s “time to sound the alarm” in response to emerging strains of gonorrhea that are increasingly resistant to antibiotics. Then, earlier this year, the medical journal JAMA reported the first North American sightings of gonorrhea that failed treatment with cefixime, one of the last drugs we have in our anti-gonorrhea arsenal. It’s a great time to be a gonococcus — the type of bacteria that causes gonorrhea — but the humans they infect probably don’t see it that way.

Last month, this bad boy rose to the top of the Most Wanted list when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention proclaimed antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea an “urgent threat” — the highest threat level, which gonococci share with only two other bacteria types. To give you some context, the much more famous superbug MRSA was categorized as a “serious” threat, one notch below “urgent.”


Antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea is an “urgent” threat; meanwhile, researchers develop a gonorrhea vaccine that works — on mice.


Antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea is especially insidious for two reasons. One, gonorrhea often doesn’t have symptoms, which allows it to jump from one sexual partner to another, the hosts often none the wiser. Two, unless health care providers actually test the bug’s DNA, they have no way of knowing whether or not they’re dealing with a drug-resistant strain. This opens up the possibility for treatment failure — and for the antibiotic-resistant bacteria to be further propagated into the community.

The CDC estimates that the United States sees 246,000 cases of antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea infections annually — that’s about 30 percent of all gonorrhea infections in the country. For now, we seem to be able to cure them with higher doses or different combinations of drugs. So why does antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea deserve the “urgent” designation? While gonorrhea isn’t associated with a body count — unlike other drug-resistant pathogens, which collectively kill at least 23,000 Americans a year — it can have terrible consequences. Gonorrhea can cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) when it advances up the female reproductive tract, and epididymitis when it invades the male reproductive tract; both conditions can cause infertility. Also, gonorrhea infections make us more vulnerable to HIV. The CDC estimates that if the most resistant gonorrhea strain gains ground over the next decade, the country could see an additional 75,000 cases of PID, 15,000 cases of epididymitis, and 222 HIV infections, costing us $235 million. Continue reading

Over 90 Percent of What Planned Parenthood Does, Part 14: Rapid HIV Testing

HIVtestingdayWelcome 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 never knew about.

It’s important to be tested for HIV, the sexually transmitted virus that causes AIDS. For some people, periodic HIV testing is part of their regular health care, while others might be experiencing a scare after a high-risk encounter (for example, having unprotected vaginal or anal intercourse or sharing IV equipment with someone whose HIV status you don’t know). No matter what boat you’re in, waiting a week or more to get your results from a standard HIV test might be nerve-wracking. If that sounds like you, then a rapid HIV test — which can give you results in just 40 minutes or less — might be just what the doctor ordered.


Today is National HIV Testing Day, and HIV testing has never been easier!


Here’s a quick rundown on rapid HIV testing: A negative result on a rapid HIV test is just as accurate as a negative result from a standard test — you just don’t have to wait as long to get it. However, positive results are considered “preliminary” and another blood sample must be sent to a lab for confirmation. If that result comes back negative, you will probably be asked to come back for retesting to verify that negative result.

The rapid test, just like the standard test, is an antibody test, which means it detects the presence of antibodies in your bloodstream. Antibodies are molecules produced by your immune system, and are specially designed to attach to viruses and other invaders. Each type of antibody is shaped in such a way that they can interlock with just one type of pathogen; some antibodies might specialize in attaching to a certain strain of a cold virus while others might be shaped especially for attachment to the surface of an E. coli bacterium. So, if you’re infected with HIV, your immune system will produce antibodies that are uniquely shaped to target HIV. An HIV antibody test can sort through the many types of antibodies in your bloodstream and identify only the antibodies that are shaped specifically for targeting HIV. Continue reading

STD Awareness: Will Gonorrhea Be Worse Than AIDS?

A scanning electron micrograph of a colony of Neisseria gonorrhoeae, the bacteria that cause gonorrhea. Image: Portland State University

A scanning electron micrograph of a colony of Neisseria gonorrhoeae, the bacteria that cause gonorrhea. Image: Portland State University

If you’ve been reading the news lately, you might have noticed an odd piece of reportage from CNBC, in which a naturopath claimed that antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea “might be a lot worse than AIDS” and might cause cases of sepsis that could kill “in a matter of days.” This quotation, uttered by a single naturopath, was then exaggerated in sources such as the United Kingdom’s Daily Mail, which ran the headline “Doctors warn that antibiotic-resistant strain of gonorrhea could be ‘worse than AIDS.’” In fact, the only person making this claim was one naturopath, not a doctor, and certainly not plural “doctors.”

There’s a lot to unpack here. First is the alarmism in the original CNBC article, and its dependence on an unreliable source. Second is the issue of antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea itself, which is a very serious public health problem. Thirdly, let’s look at the naturopath’s claim, which is that antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea could unleash a plague worse than AIDS and kill its victims in a matter of days.


Claims that antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea will be “worse than AIDS” are greatly exaggerated.


Alan Christianson, the naturopath behind the hyperbolic claims of super-virulent gonorrhea, does not seem to be an actual expert in infectious disease (his website lists “natural endocrinology” and “male menopause” among his specialties), nor is he a medical doctor. The article identifies him as a “doctor of naturopathic medicine,” but what does that mean?

Naturopaths are not medical doctors, and degrees in naturopathic medicine aren’t awarded by institutions accredited by the Association of Medical Colleges, the body that accredits medical schools. Naturopathy is a philosophy that is not generally supported by scientific evidence, but rather is based in “a belief in the healing power of nature,” according to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. It was developed in the 1800s and today encompasses many modalities of alternative medicine, including homeopathy and herbalism. For these reasons, it is odd that a journalist quoted a naturopath on the potential of antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea rather than someone more qualified, such as a microbiologist or epidemiologist. Continue reading

AIDS Denialism: Conspiracy Theories Can Kill

This scanning electron micrograph from 1989 reveals HIV particles (colored green) emerging from an infected cell. Image: CDC’s C. Goldsmith, P. Feorino, E.L. Palmer, W.R. McManus

We’ve all heard various conspiracy theories; we may or may not find them credible, and we might chalk up opposing viewpoints to simple differences in opinion. Sometimes, however, conspiratorial narratives are woven around matters of life and death — and in such cases, the spread of such ideas can influence dangerous changes in behavior and even government policy.

AIDS denialism is based on the idea that human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) does not cause AIDS. Although the existence of HIV and its causal connection to AIDS has been thoroughly demonstrated by scientists, denialists either reject the existence of HIV altogether, or cast it as a harmless virus that doesn’t cause illness. Denialism often relies upon rhetorical strategies that are superficially convincing but intellectually hollow, including the cherry-picking of evidence, appeals to unreliable “experts,” and untestable claims. Denialists also might cite early AIDS research from the mid-1980s while ignoring more up-to-date findings and improved medical procedures. Such rhetoric creates a sense of legitimate debate in an area where there is none, and the only new evidence welcomed into the discourse is that which confirms preconceived notions.


Health decisions must be shaped by the best available evidence, and when denialism misinforms, one cannot make an informed decision.


If AIDS isn’t caused by HIV, what do denialists claim is behind the unique symptoms that characterize it? Some say that conditions such as malnutrition, or diseases that have been around for a long time, are simply being labeled as AIDS. Other denialists cast antiretroviral drugs as the cause, rather than the preventive treatment, of AIDS. Some claim that AIDS is caused by behavior, such as drug use or promiscuity — with some even saying that an accumulation of semen in the anus can cause AIDS. None of the claims is true — while AIDS can leave someone vulnerable to a wide variety of diseases, and while sharing IV equipment and engaging in unprotected sex can increase risk, there is only one cause: HIV. Continue reading

April Is STD Awareness Month: Get Yourself Talking, Get Yourself Tested

GYT2013Coupons for STD-screening discounts in April 2014 are available here.

April is upon us, and you know what that means. It’s STD Awareness Month, so it’s time to GYT. Time to what?

Get
Yourself
Tested

GYT is a national campaign collaboration between Planned Parenthood, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), MTV, and Kaiser Family Foundation, which aims to bring greater awareness to STD testing. As part of GYT, Planned Parenthood Arizona wants to make it as easy as possible for you to be screened for sexually transmitted diseases. That’s why participating PPAZ locations are offering a $35 discount on full STD screenings throughout the month of April. Visit us at select health centers in the Phoenix metro area, Tucson, Flagstaff, and Prescott Valley.


In April, participating Planned Parenthood Arizona locations offer discounted full STD screening.


STDs can be transmitted by sexual activity — vaginal, anal, or oral sex, as well as activities that involve skin-to-skin contact. You might think you don’t need to be tested for STDs, but if you are sexually active, STD screening is an important part of maintaining your sexual health — in fact, the CDC recommends it. Most people with STDs don’t have symptoms — no telltale sores, blisters, bumps, warts, or discharge; no itching or burning — which means that it’s possible to have an STD without being aware of it:

  • 3 out of 4 women with chlamydia have no symptoms, and half of men with chlamydia have no symptoms
  • 80 percent of women who have gonorrhea have no symptoms
  • HIV symptoms usually take around a decade to appear

Continue reading