Sexually Transmitted Disease Seem More Of A Threat Than Most Willing To Admit

The reality: people have unprotected sex. The reality: people get AIDS. And it’s everywhere- in television shows and in books and on posters. There is still a shockingly large part of our society that clings to the belief that those testing positive for HIV are gay men or intravenous drug users. The reality: they are very wrong. It is estimated that over twenty million people in the world are living with HIV, of the infected men, 57 % are homosexual and 24 % are intravenous drug users and of the women, 38% are intravenous drug users, and 59% got the disease through heterosexual contact. STDs, or Sexually Transmitted Diseases, have been a mainstay of international society since the discovery of the New World. In 1493 Columbus, along with treasures from his newly “discovered” lands, brought syphilis back from his voyage, an STD that if left unattended can cause infertility and blindness. By 1498 this “great pox” had reached Asia and by 1505 had landed in Japan. The foreign disease baffled people for centuries, and many attempts were made to prevent its transmission. The oldest condoms, for instance, were recently found by archeologists in Dudley Castle in England, dating back to 1705. In terms of the history of disease in America, Christianity was the main force in preventing the spread of infection through socially stigmatizing promiscuity via the wrath of God. Social policies were successful as well. In the Plymouth Colony, civil penalties for fornication included a ten pound tobacco fine and several lashes on the back, in Maryland it was up to twenty lashes and as much as 500 pounds. In the eighteenth century the “French pox”, another reference to syphilis, became reason enough for divorce, which has been documented in cases where the spouse, having been involved in an extra-marital affair, infected his or her significant other. In 1918 venereal diseases became more socially visible and in 1935 Connecticut became the first state to pass a law for a mandatory syphilis test before marriage. Syphilis is now treated with penicillin and other antibiotics, and because of this, is referred to as a “treatable Sexually Transmitted Disease”. In the 1970’s genital herpes made headlines as the newest STD, one that remains, to this day, “incurable”. With genital herpes, came the realization that there were repercussions of the “free-love” era in the sixties. As sex became less and less a “free” thing, people became more and more aware of all that could erupt as a consequence. A mere eleven years after genital herpes came on the scene, the first diagnosis of AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) was made in San Francisco after treating an unfamiliar case of pneumonia. AIDS is estimated to have killed 40 million people by the opening decades of the twenty-first century. Currently 20 million people live with HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus, which leads to AIDS) and 16,000 new infections occur daily. Amazingly, the HIV virus is so fragile that is can survive only in bodily fluids that are warm and contain the right combination of salts and proteins. In June of 1981 the first account of AIDS was reported. Since then millions have died. We face countries with over one third of the population infected, leaving America and the rest of the world with a hauntingly similar sense of vulnerability to that left behind after 9/11. Realistically AIDS is more threatening than another terrorist attack. The good news is, the spread of this virus is determined solely by one’s behavior. The bad news is, it takes eight to ten years for symptoms of AIDS to present themselves, and over 95% infected die of the disease. What is even more menacing is that currently, one in five American girls has had sex by the age of 15 or younger and 50% of all adolescents report having more than one sexual partner, one in ten has had six or more. Our age group is the most “at risk” due to the frequently increased number of sex partners during this time in our lives. And many people live with AIDS today, approximately 362,827 people in the Unites States. Due to medicines and HIV/AIDS awareness people are living longer, happier, and less stigmatized lives than they might have lived twenty years ago. *For a free oral HIV test you can go to Vermont Cares between 4-7pm weekdays