Category: News

Transmitting an STI and the law

On May 8 2014 the UK Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal of David Golding against a 14 month prison sentence for transmitting herpes to his partner.

An Editorial in the BMJ by Emily Clarke an colleagues highlights the numerous and  complicated issues that arise from this verdict including:

what constitutes grievous bodily harm,

how you determine that sexual transmission has occurred,

how serious is herpes infection, and

what this judgement means both for health care workers who advise and inform patients on the risks of transmission and on the infected individual and their duty of informing all partners of potential risk of transmitting an infection even during asymptomatic shedding.

The Editorial correctly highlights the dangers of criminalizing sexually transmitted infections and the various problems that arise from this judgement which was based on a law passed 170 years ago addressing totally unrelated issues and at a time when STI’s were not understood as they are today.

Need and acceptability of human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination in men

HPV vaccination of young women with the quadrivalent vaccine (HPV4) resulted in a dramatic fall in genital warts and cervical cancer rates. However rolling out a similar vaccination in young men has been hampered by arguments that  male HPV4 vaccination programmes exceed cost-effectiveness thresholds.

Unlike the USA and Australia, European countries do not include men in HPV vaccination programmes, instead focusing on achieving expanded coverage among women to promote herd immunity.

Yet there is  evidence that HPV4 vaccination offers substantial clinical benefits to men and is cost effective among men who have sex with men (MSM). MSM have largely been excluded from mathematical models. A recent study in the journal Sexually Transmitted Infections has shown that HPV related conditions such as anal/genital warts and rectal infections are likely to be profoundly underdiagnosed among MSM in most European cities. The paper concluded that there is an urgent need to improve sexual healthcare tailored to MSM at risk for STIs.

There is also the argument  for a gender-neutral (universal) approach to vaccination.

In the same issue of STI a meta-analysis shows that there are currently a number of obstacles to acceptability of HPV vaccination in  men. They concluded that Public health campaigns should aim to promote positive HPV vaccine attitudes and awareness about HPV risk in men. The paper recommended interventions to promote HPV vaccination for boys and to overcome  obstacles to HPV vaccine acceptability for men.

What is in the May issue of STI

The latest issue of STI (Sexually Transmitted Infections) contains articles on increasing resistance of bacterial STI’s, a successful  educational interventions in South London to encourage HIV testing and data supporting the willingness by a substantial section of men who have sex with men to use pre-exposure prophylaxis for HIV.

particularly worrying is the emergence of a novel strategy by the gonococcus to avoid detection by the now widely used DNA amplification methods.

HIV treatment of infected partner reduces transmission in heterosexual couples

Based on results of randomised clinical trials the World Health Organization recommends antiretroviral drugs for all HIV infected adults in serodiscordant heterosexual relationships at all stages of the disease. But does this strategy work in real life situations?

A recent study published in the Lancet has for the first time reported that such a public health approach is feasible and the outcomes are sustainable at a large scale and in a developing country setting.

New analyses from China look encouraging, say researchers. Between 2003 and 2011, uninfected partners of treated people were significantly less likely to seroconvert than uninfected partners of untreated people (1.3 infections/100 person years (95% CI 1.2 to 1.3) v 2.6 (2.4 to 2.8)). After adjustments, treatment of infected partners was associated with a 26% reduction in risk of transmission to uninfected partners (hazard ratio 0.74, 0.65 to 0.84).

The analyses compared around 24 000 treated couples with nearly 15 000 untreated couples registered in China’s national HIV epidemiology database.

It is hard to say whether treatment was entirely responsible for reducing transmission, because people who were treated were older, sicker, and may have had less sex, or less risky sex, than those who were not yet treated, says a linked comment by the Lancet

But the findings hint at a direct effect. Treated couples looked better protected, despite the relatively low CD4 counts (and presumably higher viral loads) necessary for treatment in China.

Treatment was associated with lower transmission when HIV had been acquired from a transfusion of blood products (50% of the treated couples) or heterosexual sex, but not when it had been acquired from injecting drugs.

Lancet issue on the state of global health

The Lancet has devoted an entire issue to various aspects of global health. The issue is available free for download.

An edited extract from the executive summary follows:

The Global Burden of Disease Study 2010 (GBD 2010) is the largest ever systematic effort to describe the global distribution and causes of a wide array of major diseases, injuries, and health risk factors.

The results show that infectious diseases, maternal and child illness, and malnutrition now cause fewer deaths and less illness than they did twenty years ago. As a result, fewer children are dying every year, but more young and middle-aged adults are dying and suffering from disease and injury.

Thus non-communicable diseases, such as cancer and heart disease, become the dominant causes of death and disability worldwide.

Since 1970, men and women worldwide have gained slightly more than ten years of life expectancy overall, but they spend more years living with injury and illness.


Rising gonorrhoea antimicrobial resistance in Europe

A recent report by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control has highlighted the danger that rising antibiotic resistance may mean that soon gonorrhoea may become an untreatable disease in some parts of Europe.

According to the report the most worrying result is the increase in the percentage of isolates with decreased susceptibility to cefixime and the increase in the number of countries where this phenotype was identified between 2009 and 2010. [Fig 1]


Fig 1. European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control

Patient characteristics of isolates with decreased susceptibility did not differ greatly when compared to the overall population, except for age: patients with decreased susceptibility to cefixime were more likely to be older.

There is some evidence that the rates of ciprofloxacin and azithromycin resistance have both decreased since 2009. However they remain worringly high across Europe (53% and 7%, respectively).

Similar results for cefixime – which is the first line drug therapy in many centres – have been reported by the European gonococcal antimicrobial surveillance programme (Euro-GASP) – Fig 2


Cephalosporine resistance in gonococcal isolates 2009 – Euro-GASP

HIV Infection Among Ethnic Minority and Migrant Men Who Have Sex With Men in Britain

A study by Jonathan Elford and colleagues published in in the journal Sexually Transmitted Infection has examined human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection among men who have sex with men (MSM) from different ethnic and migrant groups living in Britain.

A diverse national sample of MSM living in Britain was recruited in 2007-8 through Web sites, in sexual health clinics, bars, clubs, and other venues. Men completed an online survey that included questions on HIV testing, HIV status, and sexual behaviour. A sample of just under 12,000 white British men were used as comparison

Results: Nine hundred and ninety-one ethnic minority MSM, 207 men born in Central or Eastern Europe (CEE), 136 men born in South or Central America, and 11,944 white British men were included in the analysis.

Self-reported HIV seropositivity was low for men of South Asian, Chinese, and “other Asian” ethnicity (range, 0.0%–5.8%) and for men born in Central or Eastern Europe (CEE 4.5%) but elevated for men born in South or Central America (18.7%), compared with white British men (13.1%) (P < 0.001).

Interestingly there were no significant differences between these groups in high-risk sexual behavior (P = 0.8). After adjusting for confounding factors in a multivariable model, substantial differences in the odds of HIV infection remained for South Asian and Chinese MSM as well as for migrants from CEE, but not for other groups, compared with white British men; for example, South Asian men, adjusted odds ratio 0.43, 95% confidence interval 0.23, 0.79, P = 0.007.

The authors concluded that despite marked differences in HIV between ethnic minority, key migrant, and white British MSM  there was no significant difference in high-risk sexual behaviour between the groups studied.

Their study highlights the importance of health promotion targeting MSM from all ethnic and migrant groups in Britain.

Sex workers collective show long-term health gains of self-empowerment

A parallel AIDS conference in Kolkota, India gave the rights an update on the success of the VAMP sex-workers colective – now in its 15th year reports, reports Andera Cornwall the Guardian.

They have shown an impressive ability to minimise risk of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections in sex workers.

Founded in 1997, Vamp now has more than 5,000 members. Weekly meetings bring the collective together to tackle a wide range of issues faced by members. Health work and advocacy for sex rights’ human rights are interwoven with Vamp’s everyday work in the densely populated alleyways in the red-light districts of Sangli and other towns in the region.

Vamp’s mission is to change society. Rather than treating sex workers as victims to be rescued or rehabilitated, it demonstrates the power of collective action as a force for women’s empowerment, mobilising sex workers to improve their working conditions, and claim rights and recognition. And they’re yielding results.

The report showed how self-empowerment and education can achieve high rates of safe sex in women at high risk of sexually transmitted infections and HIV. It is yet another reminder to that the most effective way to protect this vulnerable population is to help then self-organise and self-protect rather than to criminalise prostitution.

The latter, as many studies have shown, merely drives women into the hands of criminal gangs, or leads to risk-taking sexual practices and high rates of self-harm.

Dramatic drop in health spending according to OECD

Growth in health spending slowed or fell in real terms in 2010 in almost all OECD countries, reversing a long-term trend of rapid increases, according to OECD Health Data 2012.

In real terms average health spending has declined by over 6% compared to the start of the millenium.

Overall health spending grew by nearly 5% per year in real terms in OECD countries over the period 2000-2009, but this was followed by zero growth in 2010. Preliminary figures for a limited number of countries suggest little or no growth in 2011. The halt in total health spending in 2010 was driven by a fall of 0.5% in public spending for health, following an increase of over 5% per year in 2008 and 2009.

While government health spending tended to be maintained at the start of the economic crisis, cuts in spending really began to take effect in 2010. This was particularly the case in the European countries hardest hit by the recession.

UK gonorrhoea rates increase by 25%

Although overall rates of sexually transmitted infections rose by 2%, there has been an increase of 25% in new infections by gonorrhoea reported to the UK Health Protection Agency (HPA) – the second increase in two years running. Gonorrhoea rates increased from 16,835 to 20,965.

Other significant increases in sexually transmitted infections were in infectious syphilis (10%; 2,650 to 2,915) and genital herpes (5%; 29,794 to 31,154).

In contrast there was only a 1% rise in genital warts, perhaps reflecting the effectiveness of the vaccination programme. Diagnoses of genital warts cases in women aged 15-19 actually fell by 14% (11,251 to 9,700).

The greatest increase in sexually transmitted infections was in men who have sex with men and in heterosexual men and women aged 15-24. The high rates of infection reported in girls aged 15-19 is particularly worrying.

According to Professor Cathy Ison, director of sexually transmitted bacterial reference laboratory, the appearance of resistant strains for which no single antibiotic is effective is particularly worrying. This opens the prospect of having to use combination therapy in the future.

Research on effective behavioural change therefore remains a top priority.