Category Archives: Women’s health

Syphilis in newborns is a tragic consequence of the growing STD epidemic

From the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Early prenatal care and STD testing are essential with each pregnancy to safeguard mothers and their babies from the dangers of syphilis. CDC recommends syphilis testing for all pregnant women the first time they see a healthcare provider about their pregnancy. Women who are vulnerable for acquiring or who live in high-prevalence areas should be tested again early in the third trimester and at delivery.

“There are tools available to prevent every case of congenital syphilis,” said Gail Bolan, M.D., director of CDC’s Division of STD Prevention. “Testing is simple and can help women to protect their babies from syphilis – a preventable disease that can have irreversible consequences.”

The national rise in congenital syphilis parallels increases in syphilis among women of reproductive age. From 2017 to 2018, syphilis cases increased 36 percent among women of childbearing age. Addressing rising syphilis incidence is critical to prevent congenital syphilis. Women can protect themselves by practicing safer sex, being tested for syphilis by a health care provider, and if infected, seeking treatment immediately and asking her partner to get tested and treated to avoid reinfection.

Read the full article on the CDC website.

To find local syphilis testing (most clinics are free) go to https://gettested.cdc.gov/

Penn State and Pitt team up to create getmyHIVtest.com—free HIV test kits to anyone who resides in Pennsylvania, with a focus on minority/ethnic communities most at risk.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that some racial/ethnic groups are at higher risk for getting HIV than others.  

CDC data shows that Black/African American communities account for a higher proportion of new HIV infections as compared to other races and ethnicities. In 2018, Black/African Americans accounted for 13% of the US population but 42% of new HIV diagnoses.

Similarly, in the same 2018 report, the CDC notes adult and adolescent Hispanics/Latinos made up 27% of the 37,968 new HIV diagnoses in the United States.

Why? Because these communities are impacted by demographic factors such as discrimination, stigma, and institutionalized health disparities—all of which affect their risk for HIV.

So what can we do?  

People who know they’re infected can get into treatment and become HIV undetectable—which means the level of virus in the body is so low that it can’t be passed on to a sex partner. And people who know they’re not infected can take steps to prevent future infection by practicing safer sex (like using condoms) and taking the HIV prevention medication known as PrEP.

The first step, then, to preventing HIV is to get tested.

The good news is that anyone who resides in Pennsylvania can now get a free HIV self-test kit delivered in the mail.

In early 2021, the Pennsylvania Expanded HIV Testing Initiative (at Penn State University) and the HIV Prevention and Care Project (at the University of Pittsburgh) began a joint program called getmyHIVtest.com.

“We created getmyHIVtest.com to make test kits available to anyone in the state who might be at risk for HIV,” explains Raymond Yeo, one of the project’s coordinators at the University of Pittsburgh. “Knowing your HIV status is key in the preventing HIV in our communities—especially those most at risk for new infections.” 

The website, www.getmyHIVtest.com, provides easy-to-follow instructions and online form where PA residents can order their free kit, which typically arrives—in an unmarked package—within five to ten business days. Recipients of the kit are asked to provide basic demographic information and to take a follow up survey as a means to improve the program in the months ahead.  

“This is a big development in the fight against HIV in Pennsylvania and we need all the input we can get,” added Yeo. “It’s unrealistic to think we can test everyone in the state so it’s important that we find ways to get our test kits into the hands of the people who need them the most.”  

Questions and comments about the getmyHIVtest.com program can be sent to info@getmyHIVtest.com. To order your HIV self-test kit, go to www.getmyHIVtest.com.

NEW CDC DATA SHOW NUMBER OF BABIES BORN WITH SYPHILIS NEARLY QUADRUPLED IN THE LAST 5 YEARS

From the National Coalition of STD Directors

CDC released its 2019 STD Surveillance Report showing that STD rates in the U.S. reached all-time highs for the sixth consecutive year. Even more concerning, the report found that a growing number of babies in the U.S. are dying as a result of syphilis passed from mother to child during pregnancy (congenital syphilis) – all because women are not receiving simple, CDC-recommended testing and treatment.

Congenital syphilis is entirely preventable, but according to CDC’s report, cases of congenital syphilis nearly quadrupled between 2015 and 2019. In 2019: 

• More than three-fourths (77%) of all cases were due to gaps in testing and treatment during the mother’s prenatal care – either when a mother was tested and diagnosed with syphilis but did not receive treatment, or when the mother did not receive a timely syphilis diagnosis during her pregnancy. 

• Nearly two-thirds (65%) of all babies born with congenital syphilis were Black or Hispanic, highlighting the stark disparities in testing and treatment.

This is entirely unacceptable given the dire ramifications of congenital syphilis. As we observe Black Maternal Health Week, we are calling for action to address this crisis and its disparate impact. Forty percent of babies born to women with untreated syphilis may be stillborn or die from infection as a newborn. Those that survive can suffer severe, life-long health consequences, including deformed bones, blindness, or deafness.

“Every single case of syphilis in a newborn baby is a heartbreaking symptom of our nation’s chronically underfunded public health system,” said NCSD Executive Director David Harvey. “Congenital syphilis is 100% preventable, and the failure to protect newborns from this disease reflects our failure to invest in public health and to care for our most vulnerable members of society. We can and must do better.”

Read the full CDC press release.

New syphilis infections at an all-time high in Pennsylvania

From outbreaknewstoday.com

Pennsylvania state health officials are reporting increased amounts of sexually transmitted infections, in particular syphilis, prompting officials to encourage the public to take steps to decrease their risk.

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Pregnant women should be screened at first and third trimester because of the sharp increase in the number of babies born with the disease in the United States. Nationally, cases of congenital syphilis increased by 185 percent between 2014 and 2018. In 2019, five congenital syphilis cases were reported in the state of Pennsylvania, following seven cases reported in 2018. These reported cases of congenital syphilis in the state represented the highest number of cases in more than 25 years.Early syphilis in Pennsylvania is currently at the highest rate in more than 20 years. Over the last five years, early syphilis reported in women of child-bearing age (women aged 15 to 44) increased 114 percent, from 78 cases in 2015 to 167 cases in 2019.

“Sexually transmitted diseases are serious diseases that impact many Pennsylvanians each year,” Acting Secretary Beam said. “It is essential that all residents are aware of the risks and dangers associated with STDs. Many of these diseases can be easily diagnosed and treated, which is why we encourage all residents to talk to their doctor about getting tested so we can further prevent diseases and keep our residents healthy.”

Read the full article.

To find local testing in your area, you can search by zip code at https://gettested.cdc.gov/. Most testing locations are free.

March 10 is National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

An open letter from Deron C. Burton, MD, Acting Director, National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention…

March 10 is National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NWGHAAD), sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office on Women’s Health. As we continue our work toward ending America’s HIV epidemic, we acknowledge the challenges the COVID-19 pandemic has presented. For some women, the impact of COVID-19 has made it more difficult to access HIV services. On NWGHAAD, join us in making sure all women have continued access to HIV testing (including self-testing), prevention, and treatment and care. Together, we can prevent new HIV infections and help women with HIV stay healthy.

In recent years, we have seen progress toward reducing HIV diagnoses among women in the United States and dependent areas. From 2014 to 2018, HIV diagnoses decreased 7% among women overall, including a 10% decline among Black/African American women. While these numbers are encouraging, there is still much work to do to address gender and race-related disparities. In 2018, more than 7,000 women received an HIV diagnosis. Black/African American women made up 57% (4,097) of those diagnoses, followed by White women (21%; 1,491) and Hispanic/Latina women (18%; 1,269). Making the most of the full toolkit of HIV prevention and treatment strategies can raise awareness and help to prevent new HIV infections among women.

Many women without HIV can benefit from proven prevention options such as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) and the related support services associated with these interventions. Women with HIV should be offered treatment and the appropriate services that help people with HIV get in care, stay in care, and adhere to antiretroviral therapy (ART) so that they become virally suppressed to protect their health and the health of their sexual partners. Condoms provide additional protection for women regardless of status to prevent HIV, sexually transmitted diseases, and unplanned pregnancy. Despite the promise of these tools to help end the HIV epidemic, they only work when the people who need them most can access them. Recent CDC data reveal that only 7% of women who could benefit from PrEP were prescribed PrEP. We must continue to help women get the tools they need to protect their health, including addressing structural barriers such as systemic racism that perpetuate health disparities.

As part of the HHS Ending the HIV Epidemic: A Plan for America initiative, CDC and other federal agencies are working together to prevent new HIV infections by ensuring everyone has access to HIV prevention options, such as PrEP. To address cost barriers, HHS launched Ready, Set, PrEP, a nationwide program that makes PrEP medications available at no cost to people who don’t have insurance that covers prescription drugs. The program also addresses transportation barriers by giving people a choice to have their PrEP medications sent directly to their home or health care provider. For women who don’t qualify for the Ready, Set, PrEP program, Gilead’s Advancing Access Program and other state PrEP assistance programs are available.

To raise awareness about the many HIV prevention options for women, we encourage you to download and use materials from CDC’s Let’s Stop HIV Together campaign. The new materials broaden our portfolio and build on the existing HIV prevention, testing, treatment, and stigma resources. You can also watch our new webisode, “Hey Friend: Let’s Talk Sexual Health,” which features Black women discussing sexual health. On NWGHAAD, keep the conversation going by sharing social media content from our digital toolkit using the #StopHIVTogether and #NWGHAAD hashtags.

Thank you for your continued commitment to HIV prevention during this challenging time. By ensuring women have equal access to quality HIV prevention and care services, we can achieve health equity and end the HIV epidemic.

***

Note that in Pennsylvania, people can order a free HIV self-test kit through the mail. Go to www.getmyHIVtest.com for more information.

International Women’s Day 2021

From UNwomen.org

Women of the world want and deserve an equal future free from stigma, stereotypes and violence; a future that’s sustainable, peaceful, with equal rights and opportunities for all. To get us there, the world needs women at every table where decisions are being made.

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This year, the theme for International Women’s Day (8 March), “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world,” celebrates the tremendous efforts by women and girls around the world in shaping a more equal future and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and highlights the gaps that remain.

Women’s full and effective participation and leadership in of all areas of life drives progress for everyone. Yet, women are still underrepresented in public life and decision-making, as revealed in the UN Secretary-General’s recent report. Women are Heads of State or Government in 22 countries, and only 24.9 per cent of national parliamentarians are women. At the current rate of progress, gender equality among Heads of Government will take another 130 years.

Find out more on UNwomen.org.

Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day on Tuesday, March 9

Please join Human Services Center Corporation in honoring National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day on Tuesday, March 9 at 5:00PM via Zoom. We will discuss women’s sexual health, women and HIV, and healthy living with HIV. RSVP here. If you have questions, please contact agodollei@hscc-mvpc.org or 412-436-9537.  

Chlamydia and gonorrhea have increased among younger women, study finds

From the Philadelphia Inquirer

Rates of chlamydia and gonorrhea are increasing among women ages 18 to 30 in the United States, a recent study by Quest Diagnostics suggests.

The study, recently published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, analyzed more than 17 million laboratory samples taken between 2010 and 2017 from females ages 12 to 30. Researchers found that while there was a decline in cases of chlamydia and gonorrhea among adolescents ages 12 to 17, women of ages 25 to 30 experienced a 50% increase in positive test results. Women 18 to 24 had a 21% increase in positive test results over the period of the study.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends annual screenings for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) among sexually active women under 25, said Harvey Kaufman, director of Quest’s Health Trends Research Program. For women 25 and older, the CDC recommends screenings only for those with specific risk factors, such as reporting that their sex partner may have a concurrent sex partner. Kaufman, a co-author of the study, said the findings suggest that sexual and contraceptive practices have changed since 2002, when the CDC guidelines were first published.

Kaufman pointed out that the CDC guidelines were largely influenced by a 1998 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine that found that the overall rate of chlamydia among female Army recruits was 9.2%. As a result, the authors of the study recommended a screening program for female recruits 25 and under.

Read the full article. 

Women’s Health: Facts about Birth Control, STIs and Condoms

From the Society of Behavioral Medicine

A Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) is a bacterial or viral infection that is passed from one person to another through sexual contact (i.e., anal, vaginal, or oral). More than 25 STIs have been identified, affecting 20+ million men and women in the U.S. each year.

Anyone who is sexually active can get an STI, even without having penetrative sex (i.e., vaginal or anal sex). Some STIs, like herpes and HPV, are spread by skin-to-skin contact. Many STIs don’t show symptoms for a long time. Even without the presence of symptoms, they can still be harmful and passed between partners during sex (i.e., anal, vaginal, or oral).

STIs occur in all parts of the population.

Young adults between the ages of 15 to 24 account for nearly half of all new STIs infections each year.

Racial and ethnic minority groups are experiencing significant increases in STI rates. In 2017, the rate of reported cases of Chlamydia among Black females was five times the rate of White females and 6.6 times greater in Black males than White males.

STI rates have significantly increased within the LGBTQIA+ community. A 2018 CDC report states Gonorrhea diagnoses nearly doubled between 2013-2018 in gay and bisexual men, and men who have sex with men (MSM). Data from 2018 indicate that gay and bisexual men accounted for 54% of all syphilis cases.

People 60+ account for the largest increase of in-office STI treatment. Between 2014-2017, rates for Herpes simplex, Gonorrhea, Syphilis, Hepatitis B, Trichomoniasis, and Chlamydia rose 23% in this population.

Women who are pregnant can become infected with the same STDs as women who are not pregnant.

Fact: Oral contraceptives (birth control) cannot prevent an STI.

A common myth is that birth controls can prevent the spread of STIs. Two of the most common forms of birth controls are oral contraceptives and condoms. Many people may not use condoms because they are using another form of birth control, and feel they are safe from STIs.

Oral contraception is only effective in preventing pregnancy and cannot stop STIs from being passed between sexual partners.

Fact: Condoms can prevent an STI.

Correctly using male and female condoms can help prevent the spread of STIs and help prevent pregnancy. Dental dams, a barrier method for oral sex, can also help prevent STIs when used correctly. Most condoms and dental dams are made from latex or polyurethane, which may be preferable for individuals with a latex allergy.

Read the full article on Society of Behavioral Medicine.

STDs are sexist

From CNN

America is in the middle of an epidemic of sexually transmitted infections, and when it comes to heterosexual transmission, it’s hitting women the hardest. Why is that?

Simply put, because “STDs are biologically and psycho-socially sexist at all levels,” said Dr. Hunter Handsfield, a professor emeritus of medicine at the University of Washington Center for AIDS and STD who has studied sexually transmitted diseases for 40 years.

“Women bear the largest burden of these diseases,” agreed Dr. Edward Hook, co-director of the Center for Social Medicine and Sexually Transmitted Diseases at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “Chlamydia and gonorrhea, for example, are two of the leading preventable causes of infertility and ectopic pregnancies in the United States, and on Earth.”

Read the full article.