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Viral and Bacterial STDs

September 19, 1997

By VANDANA SINHA

Staff Writer

People who indulge in promiscuous unprotected sex are putting themselves at risk for catching viruses that can be as deadly as AIDS.

One viral sexually transmitted disease in particular, human papilloma virus, or HPV, is evident in local patients "by the boatload," and is linked to cervical cancer, said Dr. George Manger, a Hagerstown physician who has specialized in gynecology for 22 years.

There are more than 30 types of bacterial and viral STDs, some of which cannot be killed by current medicine.

Because prevention of STDs depends solely on sexual behavior, the age range most susceptible to both viral and bacterial diseases is between 15 and 24 years old, said Dr. Robert L. Parker, county health officer for Washington County Health Department.

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Unprotected sex with multiple partners classifies at-risk behavior for STDs, which can cause abnormal genital discharges, burning pain during urination, genital or other body sores and rashes, painful blisters, swollen glands in groin area, and intense itching and irritation, doctors said.

The symptoms

Symptoms, which make each viral and bacterial STD distinct, may show up anywhere from two days to 20 months after infection.

"The viral STDs are on the ascendancy. In the private office, bacterial STDs are certainly on the wane," Manger said.

With close to 25 subtypes, HPV causes bumpy or cauliflower-like warts to form on the genitals, anus or throat one to 20 months after infection. Some types, Manger said, are proven to be linked to cervical cancer, one of the major causes of death in women.

"It's easily spread through finger and genital contact. That's very common," he said.

The treatment

Once detected, genital warts can be treated through liquid nitrogen freezing, scalpel excisions, chemical applications, laser therapy, ultrasound or electric currents. But the virus in the cervix is left untouched, Parker said.

"What we try to do is lower the viral load. And hopefully, the immune system will take over," said Dr. Henry Buck, head of gynecology at Watkins Memorial Health Center at University of Kansas and chairman of American College Health Association's Task Force on HPV and Other STDs.

While bacterial diseases can be treated with antibodies, viral STDs are neither eradicated nor cured. The virus remains in body cells even when the infected person's own immune system recognizes it as an intruder, repels it or enlists the aid of medical treatments and vaccinations, Manger said.

"The big problem is we all think we're invulnerable to disease, particularly young people," Parker said.

In 1996, 125 cases of gonorrhea and no cases of syphilis, both bacterial STDs, were reported in Washington County, according to Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

But since most viral STDs go unreported and lack physical symptoms, they are harder to track and almost impossible to prevent without proper precautions, said Dr. Rafiq Miazad, chief of the Division of STDs in the state health department.

"The most important thing is if they see signs or symptoms, they should not ignore it," he said. "If they see even a little bit of itching or a little bit of soreness, then they should go to their local health department or physician."

Sexually active people are encouraged to abstain from intercourse, tell their partners and consult with free, confidential local and state resources when they see symptoms or are diagnosed with an STD, Miazad said.

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