Roundup: Origin of HIV Dates Back More Than 100 Years

Brady Swenson

Researchers trace origin of HIV virus back more than a century; Federal officials ease ban on HIV positive visitors to the US; Columnist calls out Utah congressmen for playing politics with reproductive rights; Catholic Sister explains why she is voting for Obama; Genital herpes virus infects 28% of women by age 49.

HIV Dates Back to Around 1900, Study Shows

The Los Angeles Times reports that a study led by evolutionary biologist Michael Worobey of the University of Arizona at Tucson has determined that the virus that causes AIDS has existed in human populations for more than a century.  Worobeby’s team analyzed a genetic sample from 1960 found preserved in ice-cube-size blocks of paraffin at the University of Kinshasa and compared that sample with modern strains to determine
its mutation rate. Then they matched that rate with a 1959 sample,
tracing their common ancestor to between 1884 and 1924.

"I’ve been trying to track down old samples like this for quite a few
years now," Worobey said. "As soon as you have that one other sequence
from that same time period, it really snaps the whole evolutionary
picture into sharp focus."

The researchers surmised that the
creation of colonial cities around the turn of the century was the
catalyst that allowed the virus to take hold.

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Dr. Steven M.
Wolinsky, a co-author of the study, said that colonial cities meant not
just more potential hosts for viruses living in closer quarters, but
also prostitution and other high-risk behaviors for transmitting the
virus.

"Urbanization was probably the main trigger," said
Wolinsky, an infectious diseases specialist at the Feinberg School of
Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago.


Feds Ease Ban on HIV Positive Visitors to the US

Federal officials have eased restrictions on HIV positive visitors seeking to stay in the US for less than 30 days, reports the San Francisco Chronicle.  The measure is the next step toward implementing the promise of a section of the recently passed PEPFAR re-authorization that removed the requirement for HIV to be on a not-allowed list of communicable diseases:

In 1993, amid a nationwide hysteria about transmission, Congress
approved adding HIV to the list of communicable diseases that prevented
infected visitors from entering unless they went through a lengthy
waiver process. Since then, activists, advocates and some lawmakers
have been fighting to get rid of that law.

They made progress in July when President Bush’s global AIDS relief
plan included legislation that removed the statutory requirement that
HIV be included on the list of diseases that pose a health risk.

But that did not automatically change the regulations, and the U.S.
Department of Health and Human Services must make the decision to
remove HIV from the list of "communicable diseases of public health
significance."

Until that happens, the Department of Homeland Security, which
handles some immigration services, is streamlining the process for
HIV-infected visitors obtaining visas for less than 30 days.

 

Columnist Calls Out Utah Congressmen for Playing Politics with Reproductive Rights

Yesterday’s roundup included an article in the Salt Lake Tribune on the announcement by four congressmen that they would once again attempt to pass a ban on abortions in Utah.  Today Salt Lake Tribune columnist Rebecca Walsh says the four congressmen are playing politics with an eye on the upcoming election:

Nothing sells in American politics like abortion.

It’s one of the major reasons Republican presidential nominee
John McCain picked an obscure, female and, most importantly,
evangelical governor from the West to be his running mate. In the
zero-sum game of picking Supreme Court justices, sometimes the only
litmus test is an anti-abortion stance.

Well-versed in using the wedge, four male, Republican state
lawmakers staged a show 35 days before Election Day to remind voters
that they want to save the babies. 

Walsh goes on to wonder why, if these legislators are so concerned about reducing abortions, they do not support programs that have been proven to actually work toward that end:

Never mind statistics that
show the American women who get abortions are no longer flighty white
teenagers but older black and Latina mothers. Rather than try to figure
out why (poverty? large broods already?) or add something that actually
works to Utah’s state-sanctioned abstinence-only sex education and
rhythm-method family-planning programs, lawmakers are going for the
expensive but easy fix.

Planned Parenthood Action Council Director Missy Bird says
government could save $4 in other costs – welfare, food stamps,
education – for every $1 spent in realistic sex education and family
planning that acknowledges people have sex for reasons other than procreation.

"The place where they could
have the broadest impact in this state is in preventing unintended
pregnancies in the first place," Bird said. 

 

Catholic Sister Explains Why She is Voting for Obama

In a letter to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review Sister Mary Traupman, who is also a practicing attorney, explains why she is diverging from the stance of leaders in her church to support Senator Barack Obama in the coming election:

What does "pro-life" actually mean? It means subscribing to "the
consistent ethic of life," according to the late Cardinal Joseph
Bernardin.

That is much more than opposing abortion. Cardinal Bernardin often
made reference to many life issues, including racism, abortion,
euthanasia, capital punishment, welfare policy, the arms race, human
rights — all the issues important in the Catholic Church’s history of
dedication to social justice.

You cannot be pro-life if you oppose abortion but support a
pre-emptive war, oppose fixing Medicare, oppose universal health care,
etc.

On the other hand, pro-choice does not equate with pro-abortion. I
know many people who are pro-choice and who oppose abortion. They just
don’t want it to be a crime.

Those who are anti-abortion may wish to reverse Roe v. Wade. John McCain may say he wants to reverse Roe v. Wade. That will do nothing to change the abortion statistics, since the matter will go to the states, which will then decide.

Barack Obama will do something that will change the statistics — by
providing health care, education and other support for mothers.

Let’s stop politicizing abortion and start doing something about it. Barack Obama will.

 

Genital Herpes Virus Infects 28% of Women by Age 49

Genital herpes may infect 28 percent
of women by age 49, according to the World Health Organization’s
first global estimate
of the prevalence of the incurable disease.  Women are more likely than men to have been infected with
the main type of herpes simplex virus that causes the sexually
transmitted infection, according to a report in the October
edition of the WHO’s monthly bulletin. In some areas of sub-
Saharan Africa, prevalence among women is as high as 70 percent.

 

News Politics

Clinton Campaign Announces Tim Kaine as Pick for Vice President

Ally Boguhn

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

The Clinton campaign announced Friday that Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) has been selected to join Hillary Clinton’s ticket as her vice presidential candidate.

“I’m thrilled to announce my running mate, @TimKaine, a man who’s devoted his life to fighting for others,” said Clinton in a tweet.

“.@TimKaine is a relentless optimist who believes no problem is unsolvable if you put in the work to solve it,” she added.

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

Kaine signed two letters this week calling for the regulations on banks to be eased, according to a Wednesday report published by the Huffington Post, thereby ”setting himself up as a figure willing to do battle with the progressive wing of the party.”

Charles Chamberlain, executive director of the progressive political action committee Democracy for America, told the New York Times that Kaine’s selection “could be disastrous for our efforts to defeat Donald Trump in the fall” given the senator’s apparent support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Just before Clinton’s campaign made the official announcement that Kaine had been selected, the senator praised the TPP during an interview with the Intercept, though he signaled he had ultimately not decided how he would vote on the matter.

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Kaine’s record on reproductive rights has also generated controversy as news began to circulate that he was being considered to join Clinton’s ticket. Though Kaine recently argued in favor of providing Planned Parenthood with access to funding to fight the Zika virus and signed on as a co-sponsor of the Women’s Health Protection Act—which would prohibit states and the federal government from enacting restrictions on abortion that aren’t applied to comparable medical services—he has also been vocal about his personal opposition to abortion.

In a June interview on NBC’s Meet the Press, Kaine told host Chuck Todd he was “personally” opposed to abortion. He went on, however, to affirm that he still believed “not just as a matter of politics, but even as a matter of morality, that matters about reproduction and intimacy and relationships and contraception are in the personal realm. They’re moral decisions for individuals to make for themselves. And the last thing we need is government intruding into those personal decisions.”

As Rewire has previously reported, though Kaine may have a 100 percent rating for his time in the Senate from Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the campaign website for his 2005 run for governor of Virginia promised he would “work in good faith to reduce abortions” by enforcing Virginia’s “restrictions on abortion and passing an enforceable ban on partial birth abortion that protects the life and health of the mother.”

As governor, Kaine did support some existing restrictions on abortion, including Virginia’s parental consent law and a so-called informed consent law. He also signed a 2009 measure that created “Choose Life” license plates in the state, and gave a percentage of the proceeds to a crisis pregnancy network.

Regardless of Clinton’s vice president pick, the “center of gravity in the Democratic Party has shifted in a bold, populist, progressive direction,” said Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, in an emailed statement. “It’s now more important than ever that Hillary Clinton run an aggressive campaign on core economic ideas like expanding Social Security, debt-free college, Wall Street reform, and yes, stopping the TPP. It’s the best way to unite the Democratic Party, and stop Republicans from winning over swing voters on bread-and-butter issues.”

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article included a typo that misidentified Sen. Tim Kaine as a Republican. We regret this error.

Roundups Sexual Health

This Week in Sex: The Sexually Transmitted Infections Edition

Martha Kempner

A new Zika case suggests the virus can be transmitted from an infected woman to a male partner. And, in other news, HPV-related cancers are on the rise, and an experimental chlamydia vaccine shows signs of promise.

This Week in Sex is a weekly summary of news and research related to sexual behavior, sexuality education, contraception, STIs, and more.

Zika May Have Been Sexually Transmitted From a Woman to Her Male Partner

A new case suggests that males may be infected with the Zika virus through unprotected sex with female partners. Researchers have known for a while that men can infect their partners through penetrative sexual intercourse, but this is the first suspected case of sexual transmission from a woman.

The case involves a New York City woman who is in her early 20s and traveled to a country with high rates of the mosquito-borne virus (her name and the specific country where she traveled have not been released). The woman, who experienced stomach cramps and a headache while waiting for her flight back to New York, reported one act of sexual intercourse without a condom the day she returned from her trip. The following day, her symptoms became worse and included fever, fatigue, a rash, and tingling in her hands and feet. Two days later, she visited her primary-care provider and tests confirmed she had the Zika virus.

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A few days after that (seven days after intercourse), her male partner, also in his 20s, began feeling similar symptoms. He had a rash, a fever, and also conjunctivitis (pink eye). He, too, was diagnosed with Zika. After meeting with him, public health officials in the New York City confirmed that he had not traveled out of the country nor had he been recently bit by a mosquito. This leaves sexual transmission from his partner as the most likely cause of his infection, though further tests are being done.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s recommendations for preventing Zika have been based on the assumption that virus was spread from a male to a receptive partner. Therefore the recommendations had been that pregnant women whose male partners had traveled or lived in a place where Zika virus is spreading use condoms or abstain from sex during the pregnancy. For those couples for whom pregnancy is not an issue, the CDC recommended that men who had traveled to countries with Zika outbreaks and had symptoms of the virus, use condoms or abstain from sex for six months after their trip. It also suggested that men who traveled but don’t have symptoms use condoms for at least eight weeks.

Based on this case—the first to suggest female-to-male transmission—the CDC may extend these recommendations to couples in which a female traveled to a country with an outbreak.

More Signs of Gonorrhea’s Growing Antibiotic Resistance

Last week, the CDC released new data on gonorrhea and warned once again that the bacteria that causes this common sexually transmitted infection (STI) is becoming resistant to the antibiotics used to treat it.

There are about 350,000 cases of gonorrhea reported each year, but it is estimated that 800,000 cases really occur with many going undiagnosed and untreated. Once easily treatable with antibiotics, the bacteria Neisseria gonorrhoeae has steadily gained resistance to whole classes of antibiotics over the decades. By the 1980s, penicillin no longer worked to treat it, and in 2007 the CDC stopped recommending the use of fluoroquinolones. Now, cephalosporins are the only class of drugs that work. The recommended treatment involves a combination of ceftriaxone (an injectable cephalosporin) and azithromycin (an oral antibiotic).

Unfortunately, the data released last week—which comes from analysis of more than 5,000 samples of gonorrhea (called isolates) collected from STI clinics across the country—shows that the bacteria is developing resistance to these drugs as well. In fact, the percentage of gonorrhea isolates with decreased susceptibility to azithromycin increased more than 300 percent between 2013 and 2014 (from 0.6 percent to 2.5 percent).

Though no cases of treatment failure has been reported in the United States, this is a troubling sign of what may be coming. Dr. Gail Bolan, director of CDC’s Division of STD Prevention, said in a press release: “It is unclear how long the combination therapy of azithromycin and ceftriaxone will be effective if the increases in resistance persists. We need to push forward on multiple fronts to ensure we can continue offering successful treatment to those who need it.”

HPV-Related Cancers Up Despite Vaccine 

The CDC also released new data this month showing an increase in HPV-associated cancers between 2008 and 2012 compared with the previous five-year period. HPV or human papillomavirus is an extremely common sexually transmitted infection. In fact, HPV is so common that the CDC believes most sexually active adults will get it at some point in their lives. Many cases of HPV clear spontaneously with no medical intervention, but certain types of the virus cause cancer of the cervix, vulva, penis, anus, mouth, and neck.

The CDC’s new data suggests that an average of 38,793 HPV-associated cancers were diagnosed each year between 2008 and 2012. This is a 17 percent increase from about 33,000 each year between 2004 and 2008. This is a particularly unfortunate trend given that the newest available vaccine—Gardasil 9—can prevent the types of HPV most often linked to cancer. In fact, researchers estimated that the majority of cancers found in the recent data (about 28,000 each year) were caused by types of the virus that could be prevented by the vaccine.

Unfortunately, as Rewire has reported, the vaccine is often mired in controversy and far fewer young people have received it than get most other recommended vaccines. In 2014, only 40 percent of girls and 22 percent of boys ages 13 to 17 had received all three recommended doses of the vaccine. In comparison, nearly 80 percent of young people in this age group had received the vaccine that protects against meningitis.

In response to the newest data, Dr. Electra Paskett, co-director of the Cancer Control Research Program at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center, told HealthDay:

In order to increase HPV vaccination rates, we must change the perception of the HPV vaccine from something that prevents a sexually transmitted disease to a vaccine that prevents cancer. Every parent should ask the question: If there was a vaccine I could give my child that would prevent them from developing six different cancers, would I give it to them? The answer would be a resounding yes—and we would have a dramatic decrease in HPV-related cancers across the globe.

Making Inroads Toward a Chlamydia Vaccine

An article published in the journal Vaccine shows that researchers have made progress with a new vaccine to prevent chlamydia. According to lead researcher David Bulir of the M. G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research at Canada’s McMaster University, efforts to create a vaccine have been underway for decades, but this is the first formulation to show success.

In 2014, there were 1.4 million reported cases of chlamydia in the United States. While this bacterial infection can be easily treated with antibiotics, it often goes undiagnosed because many people show no symptoms. Untreated chlamydia can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, which can leave scar tissue in the fallopian tubes or uterus and ultimately result in infertility.

The experimental vaccine was created by Canadian researchers who used pieces of the bacteria that causes chlamydia to form an antigen they called BD584. The hope was that the antigen could prompt the body’s immune system to fight the chlamydia bacteria if exposed to it.

Researchers gave BD584 to mice using a nasal spray, and then exposed them to chlamydia. The results were very promising. The mice who received the spray cleared the infection faster than the mice who did not. Moreover, the mice given the nasal spray were less likely to show symptoms of infection, such as bacterial shedding from the vagina or fluid blockages of the fallopian tubes.

There are many steps to go before this vaccine could become available. The researchers need to test it on other strains of the bacteria and in other animals before testing it in humans. And, of course, experience with the HPV vaccine shows that there’s work to be done to make sure people get vaccines that prevent STIs even after they’re invented. Nonetheless, a vaccine to prevent chlamydia would be a great victory in our ongoing fight against STIs and their health consequences, and we here at This Week in Sex are happy to end on a bit of a positive note.