You may have heard about the monkeypox virus outbreak, and if you’re anything like me, you immediately became concerned, worrying we’re on the brink of another global pandemic. Fear not, dear reader, because monkeypox, while contagious and currently going around, is not fatal or even nearly as contagious as smallpox.

Monkeypox is a virus that is part of the smallpox family, but it has milder symptoms and is far less contagious than smallpox. It is also very rarely fatal.

What are the symptoms of monkeypox?

Symptoms of monkeypox include fever, headache, muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes, chills, fatigue, and finally, a rash with pimple- or blister-like bumps that is red and itchy. It can appear anywhere on the body, including the face, inside of the mouth, hands, feet, chest, genitals and anus.

How is monkeypox spread?

Monkeypox is spread from close skin-to-skin contact with someone who is infected with the virus. The virus is spread through direct contact with someone’s rash, scabs, or body fluids. It’s not yet clear if monkeypox can be spread through semen or vaginal fluids, so it isn’t yet considered a sexually transmitted disease, even though it is spread through close contact. It can also be spread through respiratory secretions from face-to-face contact or during physical intimacy such as kissing, cuddling, or sex. 

You could also possibly get the virus by touching clothing that has been on the rash of the infected person. Pregnant people can also spread it to their fetus through the placenta or during birth. You can also get monkeypox from an animal that is infected. Monkeypox can spread from the onset of the rash, all the way through the end of symptoms. 

What is it like to have monkeypox?

People infected with monkeypox are sick typically for 2-4 weeks. It is best to isolate while you’re infected since it spreads through skin-to-skin contact. You can visit your doctor to get an official diagnosis and perhaps get topical treatment such as ointment for the discomfort and itching. To get diagnosed, visit your doctor where you’ll receive an examination where they will ask you questions about your health history, look at the rash, and either take a sample of the tissue or perform a blood test. Usually, symptoms are mild enough that no further treatment is necessary other than ointments and physically isolating so you don’t spread it.

There has been an outbreak of monkeypox in the United States this summer, so the CDC has been monitoring it. The U.S. usually doesn’t experience outbreaks of this particular virus. Since the symptoms have been so mild, the CDC recommends isolating until you are better, but in some cases, they will administer a monkeypox vaccine.

If you know someone who is currently infected with monkeypox, keep your physical distance from them until they are better. Wash your hands often. If you begin experiencing symptoms with a rash that looks like monkeypox, contact your doctor immediately, even if you don’t know if you’ve been in contact with someone who has monkeypox. Although the U.S. is experiencing an outbreak, the good news is it is mild in most cases and will clear up on its own with time. Stay isolated and use topical ointments to treat your symptoms until you are healed.

Ever heard of mycoplasma genitalium? I had never heard of it either! That is, until a few weeks ago when I was scrolling through Instagram and a sex education account I follow posted about it. Mycoplasma genitalium, also known as MG, is a sexually transmitted infection that can be spread through oral, vaginal, or anal sex, as well as rubbing up on someone that is infected. It is spread through sex fluids, so it is not just spread through penetration alone. 

What are the symptoms of mycoplasma genitalium?

Similar to many other sexually transmitted infections, MG can oftentimes be present with no symptoms at all. In mild cases, it can clear up on its own. It is also not included in the standard STD screening provided at sexual health clinics or doctor’s offices. It is often only tested for if you present symptoms or specifically ask to be tested for it. If you have a penis, symptoms include watery discharge from the penis and burning, stinging, or pain while you pee. If you have a vagina, symptoms include abnormal discharge from your vagina, pain during sex, bleeding after sex or between periods, and pain in your pelvic floor or lower abdominals. There is not a test specifically for MG that is approved by the FDA, but it can be tested through a urine sample or via a swab test, swabbing the vagina, cervix, or urethra.

If left untreated, MG can cause urethritis, which is an irritated, swollen, and itchy urethra. It can also cause pelvic inflammatory disease in people with vaginas. It can lead to an inflamed cervix as well. Because it is a bacterial infection, it is treated with antibiotics, however, it is often tricky to treat in one round. Traditionally, antibiotics treat bacterial infections by damaging the walls of a cell, but pesky ‘ole MG doesn’t have cell walls, so it often takes a few rounds of different antibiotics to completely get rid of it. 

How can we prevent mycoplasma genitalium?

Safer sex practices such as condoms, gloves, and dental dams can decrease the chance of spreading MG, but since it can also be spread through sex fluids being rubbed on someone else during sexual activity, it’s possible it can still be spread even if someone is practicing safer sex. Since MG is not tested for unless specifically asked about, it’s important to stay in tune with your body and changing symptoms. A doctor would likely test for the standard STDs like gonorrhea, chlamydia, trichomoniasis, HPV, and HIV first, and if those came back negative and symptoms persisted, an MG test would likely be the next step. You can also specifically ask your doctor for an MG test if you suspect you might have it.

Treatments for mycoplasma genitalium

As with all STDs, if you find out you have it, you need to inform your sexual partners so they can also get tested, even if you use barrier methods for safer sex. Having an STD is not a big deal, and can be treated. In this case, MG is treated with antibiotics, just like infections in other parts of the body would be treated. Practice safer sex with condoms and barrier methods every time, stay in tune with changes you notice in your body, and get tested regularly to stay on top of your sexual health. If you do not have one monogamous partner, it is recommended to get tested after each new sexual partner, or once every six to 12 months. You can even get tested at home, so stay safe and have fun!

As of January 21, 2022, the first-ever injectable HIV treatment has been approved. This injectable drug called Cabenuva is a revolutionary breakthrough for HIV treatment. 

What is HIV?

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a virus that takes over cells in the body of an infected person and weakens the immune system, making it impossible for the virus to get cleared out. HIV can be spread through certain bodily fluids such as blood, semen, pre-seminal fluid or pre-cum, rectal fluids, vaginal fluids and breast milk. People can become infected with HIV by sharing a needle or having unprotected sex with someone who is infected with HIV. Although HIV is a virus that will stay in your body indefinitely, there have been great strides made for the treatment of HIV over the last several decades. 

What is the traditional HIV treatment?

People who are HIV positive typically take a daily pill to keep the level of HIV in their blood low enough that it can no longer be detected on a lab test. Once the blood levels are this low and stay that way for at least six months, the person can no longer spread HIV. This phase of HIV is typically called “U=U,” meaning undetectable=untransmittable. If the virus is untransmittable, that means you can’t spread it to someone else. Yay! Although you can get to a point in treatment where the virus is U=U, you still have to take meds for HIV every day if you have the virus. 

How does the injectable HIV treatment work?

This new injection works similarly to the daily pills, but it is a once-a-month injectable treatment administered by a doctor, rather than something taken every day. Patients who are eligible for the injection should consult with their doctor first, of course, then will take once-a-day “starter pills” for the first month of treatment and can start getting the shot shortly after. 

Patients will schedule what Cabenuva calls a “Target Treatment Date,” which is the same date each month to come into the office and receive the shot. If something comes up and that Target Treatment Day has to be missed, patients are still covered within their “Flexible Treatment Window,” which is seven days before the treatment date, and up to seven days after. This once-a-month injection is just as effective as the daily pills patients are used to taking, as long as it’s taken within this treatment window.

Why is an injectable HIV treatment a big deal?

The daily pill first came onto the scene in 2006 and has been a great option to keep patients undetectable, but now with this monthly injection, there are more options. A once-a-month injection is a great option for someone who doesn’t want to have to worry about taking a pill every day or someone who doesn’t have a schedule or lifestyle that allows that to be accessible. Since the injection has to be administered by a doctor, this is also a great option for someone who would enjoy having a monthly check-in with their provider each time they get their shot. 

Are there any side effects?

Similar to the daily pill, the injection does come with some possible side effects: fever, tiredness, muscle aches, trouble breathing, blisters or sores in the mouth, swelling of eyes, swelling of the mouth, face, lips, or tongue. The Cabenuva website also notes that you should contact your doctor immediately if you develop a rash after the shot.

This is a wonderful development for HIV treatment and helps make living with HIV easier and more manageable. I also want to be clear that people living with HIV have healthy, fulfilling lives. They have great sex lives, loved ones and careers. Treatment options like the daily pill and now this injection help make living U=U easier than ever. Visit Cabenuva’s website for more info, and contact your doctor if you think the once-a-month shot is for you.

Over 50% of Americans have oral herpes, and one in every six people has genital herpes. Herpes is incredibly common, so why aren’t we talking about it like it’s normal? There is a huge stigma that comes with herpes and other sexually transmitted infections in general. The truth is herpes is fairly common, and it’s also not a big deal. It’s just a skin condition.

What is herpes?

Herpes is a viral infection that once you get it, it stays in your body forever, although there are ways to manage it. There are two types of herpes, HSV-1 and HSV-2. HSV-1 is also known as oral herpes or cold sores, and this can spread from any sort of contact with someone. It doesn’t have to be spread sexually. Oral herpes presents itself as cold sores, and these can be spread from person to person quite easily. You could even get oral herpes as a child from a relative giving you a peck on the lips. 

HSV-2, or genital herpes, is spread through sexual contact. Genital herpes is spread through oral, vaginal, or anal sex. It is possible to get HSV-1 on your genitals and HSV-2 on your mouth, but generally speaking, they thrive in their designated area of the body. If you have a cold sore and give someone oral sex, you could spread oral herpes to their genitals, for example. 

How do you test for herpes?

You can be infected with herpes and show no symptoms for years, so it’s really hard to know when exactly you got infected. The only true way to know if you have herpes is to get tested once you already have symptoms. If you’ve ever gotten regular STD testing done, you might notice that they don’t test for herpes as part of the regular screening. This is because herpes testing is incredibly inaccurate if you don’t have symptoms. 

Herpes can be tested for without symptoms through a blood test, but false positives are incredibly common. When I first learned this, it seemed bonkers to me! I should be able to get tested and know if I have it or not, right? Why is testing for herpes so complicated but I can get a clear answer for a test for other STDs even without symptoms? Part of the reason false positives are so common is that the herpes blood test just tests for HSV in your body. It doesn’t distinguish if you have HSV-1 or HSV-2. Because oral herpes or cold sores are so incredibly common, most people have been exposed to HSV-1, even if they’ve never shown symptoms. 

So if you got a blood test and tested positive, it’s quite possible it just shows you’ve been exposed to cold sores before, but there’s no way to know for sure if the test is detecting HSV-1 or 2. Ugh! Because herpes is so stigmatized and the possibility of having an STD is very anxiety-inducing for most people, doctors don’t recommend testing for herpes unless you have symptoms. You also cannot complete at-home testing for herpes as you can with some other STDs.

What are the common herpes symptoms?

Symptoms of genital herpes include blisters around your genital area or your inner thighs. These blisters are often itchy and painful and turn into sores. You can also experience flu-like symptoms like aches, pains and fever if you have HSV-2. If you have sores, go to your doctor and they’ll swab one of the sores and test that for an accurate reading. If you don’t have symptoms, there is nothing to treat anyhow because even if you have the virus, it will be in your body forever.

How is herpes spread?

Herpes is a little tricky though because you could be asymptomatic and still spread the virus to someone else. This is called asymptomatic shedding. You could have herpes, but not know it because you have no symptoms, and have oral, vaginal, or anal sex with someone and spread the virus to them without even knowing. Using condoms and dental dams can help prevent this from spreading, but this is why herpes is so common. I wonder though if you don’t have symptoms, and your partner never has symptoms, then does it even matter that much? Again, there’s nothing to treat if you don’t have symptoms.

What is a herpes outbreak?

If you do have symptoms and test positive for genital herpes, there are some things you can do. Most people that have genital herpes experience only several outbreaks throughout their life. Although the virus isn’t curable, you won’t have constant symptoms and it’s not detrimental to your health or sex life in any way. An outbreak is when the sores and other symptoms show up. 

For most people, this first outbreak occurs 2-20 days after your first exposure, but you might not show symptoms for years so it’s hard to know. The first outbreak is the worst and lasts from 2-4 weeks. You can take anti-viral medication and use home remedies to treat the discomfort. The anti-viral medication can make your outbreak shorter and also can be taken regularly to severely lower your chances of spreading herpes to a partner. You should wait until your outbreak clears, however, to engage in sexual activity. 

How can we end the stigma of herpes?

When you break it down, herpes is just a skin condition. Yes, it can be spread sexually, but oral herpes isn’t spread that way. Genital herpes gets such a stigma attached to it because it is a sexually transmitted infection, but it is incredibly common and won’t affect your overall health or wellbeing. People that have herpes have completely normal, unaffected sex lives. Just refrain from sex during an outbreak, talk to your doctor about anti-viral meds to prevent it from shedding when you’re asymptomatic and be open with your partners so they can fully consent to sexual activity with you.

It’s important to keep up with your sexual well-being and get tested after each new sexual partner, or every 6 to 12 months but you don’t need to worry about herpes until and unless you show symptoms. You’ll make yourself sick with worry wondering if you have it. Since it truly is just a skin condition, you don’t need to worry too much about it until you have something on your skin to treat. The blood tests are so inaccurate that it isn’t recommended to get those done anyway. There are plenty of other STDs you can get blood tests for, so focus on those as part of your sexual well-being and get tested for herpes only if you show symptoms.