Sexually Transmitted Diseases
AIDS is the deadliest of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), but other STDs are more prevalent and also serious if untreated. All are spread by unprotected sexual contact; male use of latex condoms can reduce the possibility of infection but not eliminate it.
Most STDs, including gonorrhea, chlamydia, and syphilis, are treatable with antibiotics, but some strains have developed immunity to penicillin and alternative treatments. If taking antibiotics, complete the prescribed course—an interrupted treatment may not kill the infection and could even help it develop immunity.
Herpes, a virus that causes small but irritating ulcers in the genital area, has no effective treatment. It is likely to recur, easily spread when active, and can contribute to cervical cancer. Hepatitis B, though not exclusively an STD, can spread through the mixing of bodily fluids such as saliva, semen, and menstrual and vaginal secretions. It can also spread through unsanitary medical procedures, inadequately sterilized or shared syringes, during body piercing, and similar circumstances. Like hepatitis A, it can cause liver damage but is more serious; vaccination is expensive but advisable for high-risk individuals.
According to Chile’s Health Ministry, in early 2004 there were about 8,000 full-blown AIDS cases and 30,000 HIV-infected individuals, but figures are likely higher—many carriers are probably unaware they are infected. About 5,000 Chileans have died of AIDS.
HIV/AIDS is not just an STD (intravenous drug users can get it by sharing needles), but unprotected sexual activity is a common means of transmission; latex condoms can reduce the possibility of infection. While many consider it a homosexual disease, female prostitutes may also be infected.
Despite the problem and the Concertación government’s open-mindedness, many would still prefer to turn a blind eye. Several years ago, for instance, protests from Valparaíso Bishop Gonzalo Duarte de Cortázar forced health workers to stop handing out free condoms at Viña del Mar on the grounds that it gave the impression that Viña was a “city of promiscuous people.”
Vivo Positivo (San Isidro 367, Santiago, tel. 02/6353591, www.vivopositivo.cl) is an advocacy organization for AIDS/HIV sufferers. The Health Ministry has a toll-free AIDS hotline, Fonosida (tel. 800/202120).
© Wayne Bernhardson from Moon Chile, 2nd edition