Sexual Responsibility Week: Day 4

Posted on February 17, 2011

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As we are nearing the end of the week, we hope you have found the previous information useful and informative. As a continuation of sexual responsibility week, we will focus on two new sexually transmitted infections today: HPV and HIV.

HPV (Human Papillomavirus)

What is it? Human papillomaviruses (HPV) are common viruses that can cause warts. There are more than 100 types of HPV. Most are harmless, but about 30 types put you at risk for cancer. Some research suggests that at least three out of four people who have sex will get a genital HPV infection at some time during their lives.

How do you get HPV? HPV is primarily spread through vaginal, anal, or oral sex, but sexual intercourse is not required for infection to occur. HPV is spread by skin-to-skin contact. Sexual contact with an infected partner, regardless of the sex of the partner, is the most common way the virus is spread.

What are the symptoms? Whether symptoms occur or not can depend on the type of HPV virus involved in the infection. There are more than 100 types of HPV. Although some people develop genital warts from HPV infection, others have no symptoms. Some HPV types are associated with genital warts, although the warts are not always visible.

What is the treatment? In women, Pap smears can detect changes in the cervix that might lead to cancer. There is no cure for the virus (HPV) itself. There are treatments for the health problems that HPV can cause, such as genital warts, cervical changes, and cervical cancer. HPV may go away on its own without causing any health problems. Additionally, FDA has approved vaccines that prevent certain diseases, including cervical cancer, caused by some types of HPV. Ask your doctor if you should get an HPV Vaccine.

HIV/AIDS

What is it? HIV is the virus that causes AIDS. HIV attacks the immune system by destroying CD4 positive (CD4+) T cells, a type of white blood cell that is vital to fighting off infection. The destruction of these cells leaves people infected with HIV vulnerable to other infections, diseases and other complications. AIDS is the final stage of HIV infection. A person infected with HIV is diagnosed with AIDS when he or she has one or more opportunistic infections, such as pneumonia or tuberculosis, and has a dangerously low number of CD4+ T cells.

How do you get HIV? You can get HIV through bodily fluids, including semen and vaginal secretions (through sexual contact with an infected person) and blood. There is no evidence that HIV infection is transmitted through saliva. Women with HIV infection can transmit the virus to their babies during pregnancy or delivery or through their breast milk.

What are the symptoms? In the first stages of HIV infection, most people will have very few, if any, symptoms. Within a month or two after infection, they may experience a flu-like illness, including: fever, headache, tiredness, enlarged lymph nodes in the neck and groin area. During the late stages of HIV infection, the virus severely weakens the immune system, and people infected with the virus may have the following symptoms: rapid weight loss, recurring fever or profuse night sweats, extreme and unexplained tiredness, sores of the mouth, anus, or genitals pneumonia, red, brown, pink, or purplish blotches on or under the skin or inside the mouth, nose, or eyelids, memory loss, depression, and other neurologic disorders.

What are the treatments? Antiretroviral treatment is the main type of treatment for HIV or AIDS. It is not a cure, but it can stop people from becoming ill for many years. The treatment consists of drugs that have to be taken every day for the rest of a person’s life. The aim of antiretroviral treatment is to keep the amount of HIV in the body at a low level. This stops any weakening of the immune system and allows it to recover from any damage that HIV might have caused already.

There is more to come as we continue to promote STI awareness and education! In the meantime you may call the Mayor’s Health Line at 617-534-5050 to find out how to get tested, or if you need additional information on sexually transmitted infections, take a look at the National Library of Medicine here.

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