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DOCTOR'S ADVICE - How did STIs start?

Published:Sunday | January 24, 2010 | 12:00 AM

  • Q Doctor, in the past I have read where you have warned persons about the dangers of sexually transmitted infections. I am thankful that neither me nor my husband has ever had any of these infections. But my daughter needed treatment last year, after she was infected.

    That episode had me thinking - how did a disease like syphilis start? I understand that it is contracted by having sex with an infected person and the infected person obviously contracted it from someone else.

    But going back through the years, surely this infection must have started somewhere, didn't it?

    One of my friends told me that syphilis began from women having sex with dogs! This is such a horrible story that I find it hard to believe.

    A. You are right in not believing that story. Persons learn those stories when they are young. They are just not true.

    All forms of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are caused from germs. You contract these germs by having sexual contact with someone who is infected. They catch the germ through having sex with another infected person.

    So you can see that an STI like syphilis could be no more if all persons were either:

  • Totally chaste; or
  • Totally faithful to one partner.

    Unfortunately, neither of these is going to happen. I wish life was different, but that is how it is.

    But you are interested in how these diseases started in the first place.

    Germs, whether they are cold germs or cough germs or measles or 'flu germs, have been around for thousands of years. Over the course of long periods of time, they change and become new species. Recently, we have seen that happen with the swine flu bug.

    Unfortunately, sometimes new species of germ are the kind that are transmitted by intercourse, or by other forms of sexual contact.

    In recent times, the most notable incidence of a new type of sex germ occurred about 30 years ago, when a previously unknown virus changed its nature and became HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

    Within a few years, it had spread throughout much of the world.

    Syphilis has been around for a lot longer. We know that hundreds of years ago, its 'ancestor' changed into three different types of germ.

    One of them became the agent which causes syphilis, and is transmitted from one person's sex organs to another's.

    One became the bug which causes yaws. That is a disorder which was very common in Jamaica until the 1950s. It is not sexually transmitted, but was spread among students by skin-to-skin contact, mainly of the legs. A few older persons, especially those living in country areas, still remember it.

    The third is a tropical disease called 'mal de los pintos', or sometimes just 'pinta'. It is a skin infection which still exists in remote parts of South America.

    So today's syphilis germ is just a descendant of a bacterium which existed centuries ago and which split into three different species.

  • Q I am a 25-year-old woman who is very worried. Last August, I missed my period for a week and a half. During that time, I had severe backache. I went to the doctor's, and they gave me antibiotics and a painkiller. They also did a pregnancy test, but it was negative. What was the cause of the pain in my back, Doctor?

    A. The doctor gave you antibiotics, so presumably she thought you had some type of infection.

    When there is an infection around the womb area, that often produces lower backache. That is because there are nerves which run from the womb to the back.

    Besides that, I cannot tell you just from the information in your letter. I am also not sure if your symptoms have now away. If they have NOT, you should go back to that doctor and ask her for further examination and tests. I wish you well.

  • Q I am a 38-year-old male. When I was 22, I fathered a child. But recently, my partner and I have tried three times for a child, without being successful. Am I right in thinking that it could not be a problem with me since I have previously been a father?

    A. That is not totally correct. It is always possible that between the ages of 22 and 38, you could have contracted an infection which made you sterile. On the other hand, it could be that your partner has a fertility problem.

    However, you say that you have only tried three times? That is not a lot. My advice to you is to keep trying. You should try around the time your partner ovulates, which is about 14 days before a period is due.

    You can pinpoint her ovulation day more precisely with the help of a doctor or by purchasing an ovulation kit from a pharmacy. Good luck.

  • Q I had sex with a woman in Negril last week. I have since learned that she is very promiscuous. Is there any point in getting an immediate AIDS test?

    A. Not really. The test for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, does not generally become positive until about three months after exposure. There is a quicker HIV test, which becomes positive after only a few weeks, but you would find it hard to obtain.

    Please bear in mind that there are many other sexually transmitted infections which you might have caught, and you could get tested for them now. They include gonorrhoea, syphilis and chlamydia.

  • Q Doctor, I don't get as many morning erections as I used to. Is that OK or is it serious?

    A. Morning erections gradually decrease so there is nothing to worry about.

  • Q I am a young woman, and I think I have cystitis. Could this kill me? My main symptom is a creamy discharge.

    A. A creamy discharge is not a symptom of cystitis. It might perhaps indicate a vaginal infection, but it may mean nothing.

    In any case, cystitis does not kill, so you can relax. If the discharge persists, please see a doctor and have some tests done.

  • Q I would like to know if masturbating can cause any medical problems.

    A. No, there is no known medical disease which can be caused from masturbation.

    Email questions for Doc to editor@gleanerjm.com.