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What is HIV?

HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus, and it is the virus that causes AIDS. Although I have seen extremely little of this infection in my practice, the test for it is the most requested—and most feared—among my patients coming in for STD screening.

In 2006, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that there were 56,300 new cases of HIV in the United States. In 2004, the most recent year that statistics of this nature are readily available, 13% of all

Women of all ages now comprise approximately one quarter of all new HIV cases in America.

new HIV cases occurred among adolescents and young adults 13 to 24 years of age. Moreover, women of all ages now comprise approximately one quarter of all new HIV cases in America. It's important to note that with vaginal intercourse, a woman has a greater chance than the man of contracting HIV.

HIV does its dirty work by attacking the immune system and weakening it, thereby making it far more susceptible to uncommon life-threatening infections. Latex condoms, if used consistently and properly, provide significant protection. Transmission is increased if there are open sores from herpes or syphilis.

When an HIV-positive person is infected with an uncommon infection, they are said to have contracted Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). If untreated, AIDS is fatal. However, although there is no cure, there are successful drug suppression treatments that decrease the number of AIDS cases in HIVpositive people.

What is syphilis?

There were 36,000 cases of syphilis reported in 2006, and almost 10,000 of these were new cases. Although there was a decrease in the number of cases reported in the 1990s, there has been a troubling increase recently. Syphilis infections are most common in women between the ages of 20 and 24. The syphilis bacteria are transmitted from open sores that can be anywhere on the male or female genital area.

There are different stages of a syphilis infection. The primary stage, when the open sore is present, is easily treated with an antibiotic. Unfortunately, however, many people don't seek treatment promptly because the sores are not painful. Those who go untreated progress to the secondary stage of syphilis, which results in a rash, often on the feet and hands, along with symptoms of swollen lymph nodes, fever, headache, and fatigue. These symptoms can be vague and often go undiagnosed. A continued untreated infection can progress years later to the late stage of syphilis. This is the stage where syphilis can infect the brain and internal organs and cause dementia, blindness, and even death. The second and late stages are treated with long courses of antibiotics.

Syphilis is usually diagnosed with a blood test. Pregnant women can pass a syphilis infection onto their babies with serious consequences for the child, and that's why all pregnant women are screened for syphilis during their pregnancies. The simple use of a condom will help prevent the transmission of this ugly disease.

What is hepatitis B?

Hepatitis is a general term that doctors use to describe inflammation of the liver. One common cause of hepatitis is the hepatitis B virus. Infection with this virus typically occurs when a person comes in contact with infected blood, semen, or other body fluids, or is exposed to dirty needles and injectable drug equipment previously used by an infected person.

In 2006, 46,000 new cases of hepatitis B were reported. A person infected with this virus may have symptoms of jaundice[1] (which is yellowing of the skin), or may have no symptoms at all. Some people will clear their hepatitis B infection on their own and be completely cured. In other cases, people will suffer from a chronic or long-term infection that can result in liver damage, liver failure, and even death.

There are approximately 1.25 million people who suffer from a chronic hepatitis B infection. There is no cure for it, but there are treatments that may delay damage to the liver. The hepatitis B vaccine is one of the vaccines that all babies receive shortly after birth to prevent newborns from getting an infection. In fact, this vaccine is available to all people who may be at risk of a hepatitis B infection.

The hepatitis C virus is the most common cause of hepatitis.

What is hepatitis C?

The hepatitis C virus is the most common cause of hepatitis. In 2006, 3.2 million Americans were reported to have a chronic hepatitis C infection.

Transmission of this virus occurs through contact with infected blood, infected body fluids, or infected needles and other injectable drug equipment. Although hepatitis C has been reported in women who have no other risk factors than sexual contact with an infected person, studies done on partners of hepatitis C infected people show only a 1.5% transmission rate. Nonetheless, the risk of contracting hepatitis C is one more reason why your daughter should insist that her partner wears a condom.

The symptoms of a hepatitis C viral infection initially range from a mild illness to no symptoms at all. However, many initial infections proceed on to chronic infections that cause liver failure and death. There is no vaccine; however, there have been some promising treatments that may clear the virus from the system.

What is trichomoniasis?

Trichomoniasis is an STD that is caused by an invisible parasite that lives in the vagina and male urethra.

More than 7 million Americans are infected with this disease annually.

Women who contract trichomoniasis typically have a frothy green-yellow vaginal discharge. They also often experience itching, burning, or bleeding after intercourse. Men may have no symptoms.

Trichomoniasis is transmitted through male-female intercourse or vulva-to-vulva (the skin area outside the vagina) contact. It is easily treated with a course of medicine, and in order to avoid reinfection, both partners should be treated and retested negative before any further sexual contact.

What is molluscum contagiosum?

I know you've probably never heard of this disease, but it's a skin infection caused by a common virus called a DNA poxvirus. Younger children can get it through common towel use, the shared use of athletic equipment, and non-sexual skin-to-skin contact. Older children and adults can get it from all these sources, plus sexual contact.

Molluscum contagiosum causes small, firm bumps on the skin with a central "belly button" appearance. The bumps can number into the hundreds and may cause itching and pain. In children they are present on the trunk and extremities. When this infection appears in young adults, it is often on the genital and inner thigh region and is considered an STD.

This is not a life-threatening infection, but it's often hard to get rid of due to its contagious nature. A trip to the doctor's office is required for treatment and usually involves freezing or physical eradication of the bumps.

I see this infection periodically in my office, and repeat visits are often needed to get rid of it completely. Regular washing and limitation of sexual partners are measures that can be taken to try to reduce the chance of this infection.

  • [1] A yellowing of the skin and eyes often caused by liver disease.
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