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A couple lay in their bed.

How to Avoid Common STDs

What’s common, preventable, treatable, but can be devastating if ignored? Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) — also known as sexually transmitted infections (STIs) — perfectly describe what they are. They are infections or diseases transmitted in blood or genital fluids through vaginal, anal, or oral sex. Millions of cases are reported annually despite being entirely preventable, treatable, and curable in most cases. 

Staying safe from STDs and STIs is not only simple, but it’s essential to your overall health. 

The Difference Between STD and STI

STD was the common term decades ago, but now there are differentiators between STDs and STIs. An STI can be a virus, bacteria, parasite, or fungus transmitted through sexual contact. There may not be any symptoms from the STI. Left untreated, it could evolve into an STD.

People use these abbreviations interchangeably. Doctors use “STI” more often because health care and public health officials target the infection before it becomes an STD.

A gay couple sit in their bedroom.

STI Prevalence

There are more than 30 different bacteria, parasites, and viruses transmitted through sexual contact, according to the World Health Organization. It estimates more than 1 million STIs are acquired daily. Many infections are asymptomatic.

Anyone can contract an STI, but specific populations are affected more than others. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, young people aged 15–24, men who have sex with men (MSM), and racial and ethnic minority groups are often most affected by STIs.

Pregnant women must be prudent as they can pass STIs to their unborn children or their babies during childbirth. It is essential for anyone who has sex to get tested for an STI.

The Most Common STIs
 

  • Chlamydia — This common bacterial STI can infect men and women in the genitals, throat, and rectum. It often presents without symptoms. If untreated, it can result in pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) in women and infertility in both sexes. It can cause eye infections or pneumonia in babies during childbirth. It is curable with the proper medication.
  • Gonorrhea — This is another bacterial STI infecting the genitals, rectum, and throat of men and women. Symptoms can include painful urination, unusual discharge, and pelvic pain in women. Infertility and joint problems can result if not treated. It is curable with the proper medication. There are some drug-resistant strains of gonorrhea. Gonorrhea cases increased by 11% from 2018 to 2022, according to the CDC.
  • Human Papillomavirus (HPV) — This viral infection is the most common STI in the U.S. A person infected with HPV can pass it on despite having no symptoms. It can cause genital warts or cancer of the vulva, vagina, penis, anus, or the back of the throat. The cancers don’t develop until years after the person gets HPV. Luckily, there is a vaccine that prevents HPV. It is administered to children when they are around 11 or 12 years old. 
  • Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV) — HSV exists in two forms, HSV-1 and HSV-2. While HSV-1 typically causes oral herpes (cold sores), HSV-2 is responsible for genital herpes. Symptoms include painful sores or blisters in the genital area, fever, and swollen lymph nodes. Antiviral medications can help manage symptoms and reduce the risk of transmission. There is no cure.
  • Syphilis — Syphilis can be cured with the proper antibiotics. Untreated, it can be devastating as it advances through four stages. It starts with sores that can be scarring and could lead to blindness, deafness, hair loss, or dementia. Syphilis cases increased by 80% from 2018 to 2022, per the CDC. There was a 183% increase in cases of syphilis among newborns (congenital syphilis) during that same period.
  • Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) — HIV is a virus that weakens a person’s immune system by destroying important cells that fight disease and infection. Many people have flu-like symptoms (fever, sore throat, muscle aches, rash) within 2 to 4 weeks after infection, but some people have no symptoms at all. The only way to know if you have HIV is to get tested. There is currently no effective cure for HIV, but with proper medical care, HIV can be controlled. People with HIV who get effective HIV treatment can live long, healthy lives and protect their partners. 
A patient and nurse review a medical chart.

Prevention

There are many ways you can prevent STIs, including:

  • Vaccination — Get vaccinated against HPV and hepatitis B, which can be transmitted sexually.
  • Condoms — Use male latex condoms or female condoms the correct way every time. They’re better than non-latex or natural membrane condoms for STD prevention.
  • HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) — You can take PrEP, a medication to prevent HIV before getting exposed to it. PrEP is available as a daily pill or an injection every 2 months. PrEP prevents HIV by up to 99% if you are exposed to HIV through sexual encounters. Talk to a medical provider about starting PrEP. 
  • HIV post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) — You can take PEP, which is usually made up of two medications, after you have potentially been exposed to HIV. You must see a medical provider and start PEP within 72 hours of exposure to HIV to prevent getting infected. PEP is taken for 28 days to stop the virus from infecting your body.
  • DoxyPEP — If you are a man who has sex with men (MSM) or a transgender woman, you can take an antibiotic called doxycycline within 72 hours of condomless sex to prevent getting bacterial STIs like chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis. Talk to a medical provider about getting DoxyPEP.
  • Fewer sex partners — The fewer sexual partners you have, the lower your risk of exposure.
  • Mutual Monogamy — You and your partner agree to only have sex with each other. Get tested to make sure you’re both STD-free.

Your Options with AltaMed

There are numerous new ways to prevent the transmission of STIs. Yet, this increased risk is due to our education system’s shortcomings in effective sexual education, as well as limited access to STI testing and treatment. In addition to health resources and information, AltaMed offers condoms, rapid HIV testingPrEP, PEP, DoxyPEP, and screenings.

If you are looking for ways to reduce your risk for an STI or if you received an STI diagnosis and need help, call (888) 499-9303 or click here to get started. For those in need of immediate medical attention, find an AltaMed urgent care location near you.

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A couple in love spends time at the park.

How Love Affects Your Health

You never forget your first love, or any of them for that matter. That’s because the feeling of love plays a crucial role in our lives, impacting not only our emotional well-being but also our physical health. The pain of a lost love can be terrible, but as Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote, “It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”

Here’s how love changes your brain and body for the better.

Your Brain in Love

Love is an emotion, but it’s the brain — specifically the limbic system — that’s in control of behavioral and emotional responses. So, when you’re in love, you feel:

  • Euphoria — It’s the giddy excitement from spending time with that special someone. You can even feel it when you think about that person. You feel it because your brain is releasing dopamine. It’s a reward for pleasurable behaviors.
  • Attachment and security — These feelings are the result of a surge of oxytocin. The feelings are stronger after touching, kissing, or sex.
  • Willingness to sacrifice — The longer you’re with your partner, the more likely you are to agree on compromises. This happens because of your vagus nerve.
  • Constant thoughts — Dopamine is partly to blame for this. But so is the anterior cingulate cortex. It’s the same part of the brain that’s linked to obsessive-compulsive behaviors.
  • Less stress — There is research that suggests single people have higher levels of the stress hormone known as cortisol. Those in committed relationships don’t.
  • Jealousy — While seen as a bad thing, jealousy can motivate you to pay more attention to the needs of your partner. Acknowledge jealous feelings. They are normal.
A couple lovingly embraces in the doorway.

Your Body in Love

Beyond the chemical changes happening in your brain, the body itself experiences shifts to account for these feelings. They include: 

  • Lust — You want to have sex. It increases closeness and those urges are perfectly normal. AltaMed provides free birth control and testing for sexually transmitted infections.
  • Overall improvement — There are some physical benefits including:
    • Decreased risk of heart disease
    • Lower blood pressure
    • Improved immune health
    • Faster recovery from illness
  • Longer life span — Academic research showed evidence suggesting the longevity of people in loving, long-term relationships.
  • Pain relief — An extremely small study found participants reported less pain when they saw images of their romantic partner.

Love Hurts

Love is complicated. For all the incredible health benefits we get, there can also be drawbacks, especially early on. Some effects include:

  • Increased stress — This is often in the early stages of the relationship when there may be questions about how someone feels.
  • Butterflies — That stress can manifest in the form of “butterflies” in the stomach. Sometimes that’s good but it can also make you feel pretty queasy.
  • Changes — Sleep and appetite are often affected the most. The butterflies make eating difficult and the questions about how someone feels make it hard to sleep.
  • Poor judgment — Intense feelings can cause your amygdala to shut down. That’s the part of your brain that helps you to detect danger. It’s not fully formed in teenagers which is why you sometimes see young “lovers” do stupid things.
  • Addiction — For some people, the feelings that come from the early stages of a relationship are a little too intoxicating. Instead of letting things progress, they chase that “high” by jumping from partner to partner.

We Love You Just the Way You Are

Whether you’re in a happy relationship, or have a broken heart, our Behavioral Health Services professionals can help relieve any emotional issues you’re dealing with. Call (855) 425-1777 to learn more.

We can also help you with any physical concerns. Click here or call us at (888) 499-9303 to get started.

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Domestic Violence

Ending Domestic Violence for a Healthier Community

Domestic violence is an all-too-common public health issue that affects millions of individuals and families worldwide. Defined as a pattern of abusive behaviors within an intimate relationship, domestic violence includes physical, emotional, sexual, and economic abuse.

It not only poses physical and psychological harm, but also has far-reaching impacts on the overall health and well-being of victims, families, and communities. Fear and financial dependence prevent most victims from seeking help. As a result, injuries go untreated, stress builds up, mental health worsens, and the relationship can end in death by either homicide or suicide.

Defining Domestic Violence

The United States Surgeon General first listed violence as a public health priority in 1979.

Intimate Partner Violence, or IPV, can consist of:

  • Physical abuse — This includes hitting, slapping, punching, and any form of physical harm. Bruises, broken bones, and unexplained injuries may be a warning sign.

  • Emotional abuse — This can come in the form of insults, humiliation, threats, and constant criticism. Victims often experience anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem.

  • Sexual abuse — Unwanted sexual advances, coercion, or non-consensual sexual acts fall under this category. Signs may include unexplained sexually transmitted infections or injuries.

  • Economic abuse — Controlling a victim's finances, restricting access to resources, and preventing them from holding a job are common tactics. Victims may be financially dependent on their abuser.

  • Psychological abuse — Manipulation, gaslighting, and mind games can have a profound impact on a victim's mental health. They may doubt their own reality or feel trapped.

IPV by the Numbers

According to the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, there are millions of victims in the U.S. each year.

Some findings include:

  • 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men — report experiencing severe physical violence from an intimate partner.

  • 1 in 5 women and 1 in 13 men — have experienced violent sexual contact by an intimate partner.

  • 14% of women and 5% of men — report having been stalked by an intimate partner.

  • 61 million women and 53 million men — experienced psychological aggression by an intimate partner in their lifetime.

The Consequences

Survivors of IPV face a host of potential health issues with physical injuries being most common. About 75% of women and 48% of men who survive IPV experience some physical injury related to their abuse. Also, crime statistics show that one in five homicide victims are killed by an intimate partner. More than half of all female homicide victims in the U.S. are killed by current or past male partners.

IPV survivors are also at risk for other chronic conditions affecting the:

Survivors can suffer from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). They face a higher risk for addictive behaviors like smoking, binge drinking, and risky sexual activity. People from marginalized groups like LGBTQ+ or racial and ethnic minorities are at higher risk for worse consequences.

Recognizing Domestic Violence

Sometimes it’s hard to speak up for someone you think is being abused. We tend to make excuses for why things are a certain way, or we worry we’ll be told to, “mind our own business.” But those being abused can’t or won’t always ask for help. By saying something, you could ultimately save their life.

Abusers often demonstrate the following:

  • A bad temper
  • Abuse of other family members, children, or pets
  • Accusations that the victim is flirting or having an affair
  • Antiquated beliefs about gender roles in relationships
  • Blaming the victim for anything bad that happens
  • Controlling all finances
  • Controlling what the victim wears or how they act
  • Cruelty to animals
  • Demeaning the victim publicly or privately
  • Embarrassing the victim in front of others
  • Extreme jealousy
  • Extremely controlling behavior
  • Forced sex
  • Harassing the victim at work
  • Possessiveness
  • Sabotaging birth control methods
  • Sabotaging the victim’s ability to work or attend school
  • Unpredictability
  • Verbal abuse

If you think someone is being abused, you should:

  • Never judge them
  • Avoid telling them they need to leave (they know that)
  • Not badmouth the abuser
  • Act as a trustworthy friend to the victim
  • Tell them why you’re worried and be specific
  • Listen
  • Offer help
  • Respect their choices
  • Don’t tell them what they should do

Remember, as much as you want to help them, you’re not in their shoes. Respect the complexity of the situation but stay anchored as an ally and a voice of reason. 

We’re Here for You

AltaMed is available to help you, or others, find resources to end an abusive relationship. Our Behavioral Health Services are staffed with licensed clinical social workers who speak English and Spanish and are trained to help you through whatever life puts in your way. You don’t have to go through it alone. To learn more, call (855) 425-1777.

How to Avoid Common STDs