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Forgotten but not gone: other sexually transmitted diseases.

While HIV is the most serious danger facing gay men who have unprotected sex, it is far from being the only one. Prevention experts warn that those who slip from safe-sex standards run the risk of starting--or spreading--a subepidemic of other sexually transmitted diseases. Indeed, men who believe they are staying safe by limiting themselves to oral sex--widely touted as a low-risk activity for HIV infection--are among those at a high risk for other STDs. As public health information distributed in New York City puts it: YOU CAN GET MORE FROM A BLOWJOB THAN A SMILE.

"There has been so much focus on HIV and safer-sex concerns that we don't think about the other STDs," says Lawrence Mass, cofounder of the New York City AIDS service group Gay Men's Health Crisis. "But they're still there and quite possibly are escalating again. They could become a big problem."

Perhaps the most serious threat to gay men apart from AIDS is hepatitis, which can be prevented--with vaccinations--in its two most common forms: hepatitis A, which is spread through contact with fecal matter, and hepatitis B, which is transmitted in much the same way as HIV except that it is much easier to contract, spreading through saliva as well as through blood and semen. Left untreated, hepatitis B can cause liver damage and death.

In addition, Mass notes that hepatitis C, which was classified as a separate disease in 1990, is relatively unstudied and could pose a significant health hazard to gay men, "The serious complications are twice as high as with hepatitis B," says Mass. "It has primarily been associated with blood transfusions and injecting needles, but it is at some level sexually transmissible. We don't know what the risk is there."

Most STDs that are widely seen among gay men are curable through proper treatment. An exception is herpes, which has the added disadvantage that it can facilitate transmission of HIV.

Mass is particularly concerned that gay men are ignorant of the risks carried by unprotected oral sex, particularly for the passive partner. "Apart from HIV, there is a host of other STDs that can be passively acquired: gonorrhea, syphilis, chlamydia, and herpes," says Mass. "If people are having huge amounts of oral sex, it's just a matter of time before the local health departments report increased rates of oral gonorrhea."

So far, Mass concedes, he has received only "anecdotal reports" of an increase in chlamydia and other STDs. The fear, however, is that the lag time between increased risk for STDs and confirmation of the upswing is so great that a new STD epidemic could get a good head start before gay men hear about it. "By the time you get clear confirmation of rates of increase from statisticians," Mass says, "it may be later rather than soon."
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:risk factors and safe-sex
Author:Gallagher, John
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Date:Jul 8, 1997
Words:468
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