Category: Public health

The perils of chemsex

The term “Chemsex” is used in the United Kingdom to describe intentional sex under the influence of psychoactive drugs, mostly among men who have sex with men. The main drugs are mephedrone, γ-hydroxybutyrate (GHB), γ-butyrolactone (GBL), and crystallised methamphetamine. These drugs are often used in combination to facilitate sexual sessions lasting several hours or days with multiple sexual partners.

Mephedrone and crystal meth are physiological stimulants, increasing heart rate and blood pressure, as well as triggering euphoria and sexual arousal. GHB (and its precursor GBL) is a powerful psychological disinhibitor and also a mild anaesthetic.

Anecdotal reports and some small qualitative studies in the UK find that people engaging in chemsex report better sex, with these drugs reducing inhibitions and increasing pleasure.

Unfortunately use of chemsex can lead to mental health problems which can be permanent. Moreover Casual sex, particularly if under the influence of alcohol or drugs can lead to the acquisition of sexually transmitted infections and even such bugs as shigella, an infection causing severe bacillary dysentery and diarrhoea usually associated with travel to regions such as Indian subcontinent, North and East Africa and South America.

See trailer for Chemsex, a film ChemsexOfficial directed by William Fairman and Max Gogarty (a Peccadillo Pictures)  in the medical journal Lancet.

Sexually abused children should be offered HPV vaccination

Should children exposed to sexual abuse be offered human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination alongside screening for sexually transmitted infections? A recent article in the Lancet argues for a yes answer.

The WHO defines childhood sexual abuse  as the involvement in sexual activity of a child under the age of 18 years who did not give informed consent or is not developmentally prepared.

The global prevalence of childhood sexual abuse is estimated to be 8–31% for girls and 3–17% for boys. The true figures are probably nearer the upper figure.

According to a review, parents were the perpetrators of about 45% of cases of childhood sexual abuse in the USA, and other relatives were responsible for a further 19%.  Others included figures of authority such as priests and teachers. Survivors of such abuse are often hesitant to report such incidents because of shame and fear of retribution. Thus, the incidence and prevalence of childhood sexual abuse is almost certainly underestimated. Read more

Invitation to workshop: role of stigma and shame in the access to sexual health clinics

A workshop on philosophical aspects of sexual health is being held at

Seminar Room 3.28, New Business School, Manchester Metropolitan University Manchester, United Kingdom

The workshop is run by Dr Phil Hutchinson and was part funded by a research grant from Sexually Transmitted Infections Research Foundation (STIRF). Project STIRF-026

Workshop 1: The Problem of Selection Bias in Biomedical & Public Health Research. Wednesday September 16

Workshop 2: Shame, Stigma and HIV. Thursday September 17

Venue: Seminar Room 3.28, New Business School, Manchester Metropolitan University, Manchester, UK

Mandatory registration: contact: marie.chollier@stu.mmu.ac.uk

Further information can be obtained from Phil Hutchinson p.hutchinson@mmu.ac.uk

 

 

Decline in high grade cervical lesions in US women

The incidence of high grade cervical lesions in young women in the United States has fallen, a new analysis has found. Susan Hariri and her colleagues reported in the journal Cancer that this may be caused by the introduction of the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine but may also be due to changes in screening guidelines.

From 2008 to 2012, 9119 cases of high grade cervical lesions (CIN2+) were reported among 18 to 39 year olds as part of a sentinel system for the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In all four catchment areas the researchers found a dramatic and consistent decrease in the incidence of high grade lesions among women aged 18 to 20 over the study period.

In California the incidence fell from 94 in 100 000 to 5 in 100 000

In Connecticut it fell from 450 to 57 in 100 000

In New York it fell from 299 to 43 in 100 000

In Oregon it fell from 202 to 37 in 100 000.

No change was seen among 30 to 39 year olds.

Vaccination against HPV has been available in the US since 2006. It is offered to girls aged 9 to 12 and as part of short term catch-up scheme targeting 13 to 26 year olds. The picture is unclear, however, as the recommended age for initiating cervical cancer screening was raised to 21 years during the same period, and screening intervals have been extended.

The study concluded that the declines in CIN2+ detection in young women were likely due to reduced screening but could also reflect the impact of vaccination. 

Why don’t the Somali Refugee Community Access Sexual Health Services

A new project funded by STIRF (STIRF-027) has just been completed.  

Background: In the United Kingdom there is an established and growing refugee population from Somalia. Despite this Somalis have remained absent from much of the official statistics largely because ‘Somali’ is rarely recognised as a distinct ethnic category. Little is known about the sexual health needs of this particular community but in terms of their broader health issues, Somalis are known to have a high level of need but low uptake of health care services (Carswell et al.2011).

Aims: Through the use of focus groups and individual interviews this study sought to explore the sexual health needs of the local Somali community by ascertaining from their perspective, what they know about sexual health services, the challenges that may prevent them taking up these services and how services could be adapted to best meet their needs.

Results: The study showed little knowledge of services, especially about sexual health, how to accessing services, issues relating to shame, stigma and taboo, the influence of gender, religious and cultural norms, the perceptions of young people, the language barrier lack of cultural awareness and sensitivity demonstrated by healthcare professionals.

Recommendations:

  • Urgent attention be given to raising awareness, amongst the Somali community, about local sexual health services and how they can be accessed.
  • Information about sexual health services be made available in a format that is accessible to the Somali refugee community, for example, via a CD, DVD or USB stick.
  • That public health professionals and health care practitioners make clear the concept of preventative screening, making explicit the value of screening and early diagnosis for infectious diseases including TB and HIV/AIDS.
  • Health practitioners and public health professionals exercise extreme sensitivity when discussing issues related to sexual health and well-being. Every effort must be made to gain the trust of the individual so that they are able to discuss their fears or concerns.
  • Public health professionals and health care practitioners receive appropriate training and education so that they are equipped with the necessary cultural understanding and skills when working with the Somali community.
  • That a proactive approach be taken to helping Somali refugees to attend a programme of induction that includes language classes.
  • That a register of trained interpreters, who understand medical terminology and who are trained to work with those who may have experienced rape and torture should be available for public health professionals and health practitioners. Telephone interpretation should also be made available during consultations.

The results of the study have been presented in international meetings and published in reputable international journals.

Call for HPV vaccination for school age boys

In a recent editorial in the British Medical Journal (available only on subscription), Margaret Stanley and coauthors urged the UK government to introduce a gender neutral vaccination programme against HPV in schools for boys and girls aged 12-13 to reduce not only ano-genital warts but HPV-related cancers. These include cervical cancer in women, anal cancers in men who have sex with men and oropharyngeal cancers.

The authors point out that  oropharyngeal cancers have the fastest rising incidence (15% per year) and anal cancer rates in the UK have risen by nearly 300% in the last 40 years..

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.

Human rights violations against sex workers: burden and effect on HIV

This is part of a series of articles on HIV and sex workers published by The Lancet and freely available.

In this article Michelle Decker et al  reviewed evidence from more than 800 studies and reported on the burden and HIV implications of human rights violations against sex workers.

Abuses of human rights are  perpetrated by both state and non-state actors. Such violations directly and indirectly increase HIV susceptibility, and undermine effective HIV-prevention and intervention efforts.

Violations include homicide; physical and sexual violence, from law enforcement, clients, and intimate partners; unlawful arrest and detention; discrimination in accessing health services; and forced HIV testing.

Abuses occur across all policy regimes, although most profoundly where sex work is criminalised through punitive law.

The authors conclude that protection of sex workers is essential to respect, protect, and meet their human rights, and to improve their health and wellbeing.

Research findings affirm the value of rights-based HIV responses for sex workers, and underscore the obligation of states to uphold the rights of this marginalised population.

Bacteria living in men’s penises could be promoting sexually transmitted infections

The debate about whether to circumcise or not continues to raise passions. The fact that male circumcision reduces acquisition of HIV from an infected partner has been proven by three randomised clinical trials. And male circumcision may also protect against other sexually transmitted infections.

One of the most powerful arguments against male circumcision is that it only addresses acquired infections in the male. A recent report in the Scientist that bacteria living under the foreskin can promote STI’s would help answer this critique.

Just as the vaginal microbiome differs among women and changes over time, the penis is home to a variety of bacteria that vary with age, sexual activities, and whether the man is circumcised, among other things. And it’s not just the skin that envelops the male sexual organ that’s inhabited by microbes: researchers continue to identify bacteria that dwell within the urogenital tract, a site once considered sterile in the absence of infection.

David Nelson and colleagues at Indiana University in Bloomington found evidence to suggest that the sexually transmitted pathogens in the urogenital tract were obtaining metabolites from other microbes. “There was a signature in the chlamydial genome that suggested this organism might be interacting with other microorganisms,” said Nelson. “That’s what initially piqued our interest. And when we went in and started to look, we found that there were a lot more [microbes] than we would have anticipated being there.”

The researchers found that some men pass urine containing a variety of lactobacilli and streptococci species, whereas others have more anaerobes, like Prevotella and Fusobacterium. In terms of overall composition, “we see a lot of parallels to the gut,” said Nelson, noting that there doesn’t seem to be a standout formula for a “healthy” urogenital tract. Commensal microbes within the urethra could make a man more susceptible to infection by supporting colonization by pathogens like Chlamydia, whereas bacteria that consume the environment’s nutrients could help prevent it. “We just don’t know at this point,” said Nelson.

To date, circumcision is the known largest influence on the composition of the penis microbiome. In a 2010 PLOS ONE paper, Lance Price of the Translational Genomics Research Institute in Phoenix, Arizona, and his colleagues showed that the bacteria that colonized the base of the penis’s tip, or glans, varied before and after circumcision. More specifically, the researchers found fewer anaerobic bacteria within six months after the men in a study were circumcised. Those findings have since been confirmed.

Definitely further studies in this field should be encouraged.