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Good News About STDs


( - December 10, 2003) In its message to the nation for STD Awareness Month, the American Social Health Association (ASHA) points to promising developments in the fight against sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

"We’re accustomed to talking about the fact that STDs are still epidemic in this country," says ASHA’s new President James R. Allen, MD, MPH, "but we can also point with pride to the fact that a great deal of progress is being made in the effort to stop STDs and their harmful consequences."

While STDs caused by bacterial infections are easily cured with antibiotics, treatments for viral STDs generally do not eliminate the virus, and the impact can be life long.

A private, nonprofit organization focusing heavily on STD awareness and prevention, ASHA reports that viral infections are the leading concern of callers to its health hotlines and visitors to its Web sites. “HIV, herpes, Human papillomavirus, and Hepatitis B, are, respectively, the four infections that most concern our callers,” states David Bergmire-Sweat, Senior Director of ASHA’s Consumer Health Network Services division. “People are becoming more aware of how prevalent STDs really are, and they are taking steps to get the information they need to protect themselves, and their partners.”

The good news is that important diagnostic and treatment breakthroughs have been noted in several areas:

Genital Herpes: While herpes continues to spread at alarming rates, researchers have developed new tests to identify cases and in recent months, have proven the role of antiviral medication in interrupting transmission of the virus. Scientists working on a genital herpes vaccine have also reported some success, and a new vaccine trial is under way with support from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Genital Human Papillomavirus (HPV): Research has found that numerous “high-risk” HPV types are linked with cervical cancer in women. Using newer technologies, such as HPV DNA tests and liquid-based Pap tests, can provide a more sensitive screening to help prevent this cancer. Also, data from a recent vaccine study for one “high-risk” type, HPV 16, showed considerable success in reducing the number of women with this particular type and it’s associated pre-cancerous lesions. Vaccines are also in development to prevent genital warts, which are associated with non-cancerous types of HPV.

HIV: A recent report on a phase-three trial of an HIV vaccine yielded mixed results. While the vaccine did not have the 30% overall efficacy needed to apply for Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval, early reports indicate that it may be effective in certain minority groups. Additional research will need to be conducted.

Hepatitis B Virus: While perhaps not as widely discussed, Hepatitis B is actually 100 times more infectious than HIV. Additionally, carrying the virus may increase the likelihood of developing liver cancer by as much as 300%. The good news is that a safe and effective vaccine is readily available.

“The importance of these breakthroughs cannot be emphasized enough,” declares Allen. “The prevention of disease is always preferable to the treatment of disease, and for the first time in a long time we are making significant strides.”

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