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Sexually transmitted infections

Topic remains difficult one to discuss

August 10, 2010
By CHRISTOPHER DIEM Journal Staff Writer

MARQUETTE - Sexually transmitted infections affect many people but they are rarely talked about openly, creating a barrier between people having health problems and people getting help.

Will Getts, with Northern Michigan University's Health Promotions Office, said NMU officials try to bridge that gap and discuss STI prevention by using a slightly more light-hearted approach.

"We actually have a thing called Quiz Bowl, which is kind of like "Jeopardy." And we go out to the resident halls on campus and we actually have ones dedicated to sexual health. It's kind of a fun, inventive way for people to learn about it in a setting that's not exactly academic," he said.

Getts said students are encouraged to talk to people at the health promotions office about their issues, though sometimes that's easier said than done.

"People are very uncomfortable talking about this. In most situations, no matter how much we try to educate, it's always seen as something that is taboo," he said. "People will actually not come to us because they feel that it's not something that should be spoken about. And that's just not true. We're here because we want to be able to help if you have questions."

And sometimes the message simply falls on deaf ears.

Fact Box

"People are very uncomfortable talking about this. In most situations, no matter how much we try to educate, it's always seen as something that is taboo."

- Will Getts, NMU Health Promotions Office

"A lot of times when we're talking about what we talk about a lot of the reaction we get is laughter. In general, they don't take what we're saying to heart," he said.

In addition to their outreach and education programs, the health promotions office offers free condoms, runs public service announcements on Radio X and has a lot of literature about a variety of STIs.

Two of the most common sexually transmitted infections include the human papillomavirus and herpes.

Human papillomavirus is the most common STI in the United States. According to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, at least 50 percent of sexually active people will have genital HPV at some time in their lives. Most people who have it don't realize it as there are often no symptoms. In some cases it can go away on its own without causing any health problems but it can also lead to cervical cancer in women.

It is very important for women to have regular tests because changes that are caught early can be treated before they lead to cancer.

The best way to prevent HPV, as with all STIs, is not to have sex. Proper use of condoms greatly reduce the risk of STIs although some infection transmission may occur even with a condom.

Females and males can get vaccinated to protect against the type of HPV that most commonly causes health problems. The vaccines are given in three doses over six months

Dr. Jorrie Houle, with OB/GYN Associates of Marquette, said all young women should take the Gardasil vaccine. Vaccines such as Gardasil are most effective when all the doses are received before people have sexual contact with their first partner.

Houle said HPV is very common and people should not be ashamed if they test positively for it.

"If you're sexually active in this millennium you're going to be exposed to HPV, more than likely, whether you're male or female. That's why I would recommend the vaccine for all young age women because cervical cancer is preventable," she said.

She said most people will talk to a physician about STIs but are less likely to talk to their partner.

"If young teens are having sex they need to talk to their partners," Houle said.

Genital herpes is common in both men and women. As with HPV, most people don't know they have it because there are often no symptoms. A person can get herpes through anal, oral or vaginal sex.

If there are symptoms, the most common ones are painful blisters and sores. There is no known cure for genital herpes, but there are treatments for the symptoms.

Houle said both men and women should wear condoms to reduce the risk of herpes.

"Someone can be a carrier of herpes and not have an outbreak and not know it and they can expose others and so that's another reason why a barrier is so important," she said.

Christopher Diem can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. His e-mail address is



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