By Brooke Faulkner, freelance writer; @faulknercreek.
We look towards technology to help solve many of the issues that plague the world today. From healthcare to environmental degradation, innovation has led the way in developing solutions. The spread of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) is a worldwide issue and one that researchers are looking to alleviate.
A rise in numbers
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), there are 19.7 million new sexually transmitted infections reported each year. This report accounts for number of infections, not individuals, as some individuals may have contracted an infection more than once or different types of infections in a single calendar year. The CDC found in a four year study, between 2013 and 2017, the number of those infected with syphilis nearly doubled, gonorrhea cases increased by 67 percent, and chlamydia infections are at record highs.
There also appears to be a correlation between certain demographics and the number of those infected. Populations with lack of access to healthcare, as well as those who live below the poverty line are at a higher risk for infection. Gay and bisexual men continue to be at an increased risk of contracting a sexually transmitted infection, including HIV and AIDS — this demographic accounted for 85 percent of all cases in 2015.
There has been much speculation as to why the rise of STDs is occurring, however, no one can say for sure. In heterosexual relationships, the blame has been put upon the use of long-term birth controls with a main focus of avoiding unwanted pregnancy as opposed to STD prevention. The number of seniors contracting gonorrhea are also rising, which is hypothesized to be a result of seniors being more active later in life as a result of longer lifespans. Since it has been found that the numbers are rising, researchers are redirecting focus to make a plan on how to prevent STDs from continuing on this increasing track.
Many people are uncomfortable with how much of their personal information is being taken and shared without their knowledge or consent. While taking precautionary measures, such as covering your computer camera when not in use and not sharing your location on your smartphone, may provide you with a sense of comfort, understand that some companies are using this information to pinpoint STD outbreaks.
Similarly to predicting earthquakes or volcanoes, researchers are looking at trigger points, in this case search terms, to predict STD outbreaks. Tech companies, such as Google, are helping to monitor STD rates and work toward preventing STDs. Google is collecting the location of search terms in association with STD symptoms and comparing it with diagnosis data from local healthcare providers to draw a correlation between the two.
If a rise in the number of times the search term for “vaginal discharge” and the diagnosis of chlamydia occur in a concentrated area, it alerts health professionals of a potential outbreak. This enables medical practitioners to react appropriately by informing the public and preparing their clinics accordingly.
Sex and apps
Nearly all aspects of personal information is shared on social media nowadays — where you are vacationing, what you’re eating, who you’re with, and your life goals and ambitions. Software developers are hoping to engage individuals by creating apps to share sexual health information. Forums, websites, social media channels and apps have been created as a safe place to ask questions, gather information, and seek out centers to get tested.
STD Triage is a new app that has been developed to maintain anonymity for those who are fearful of going to a doctor about a rash or bump that may be nothing more than an ingrown hair. The app charges a $40 fee to examine photos taken by the user and then offer their recommendation on whether or not to seek out healthcare or schedule an appointment with their dermatologist. The app is not run by medical professionals and should only be taken as opinion and advice, not matter of fact.
There are apps to help match people of similar interests, as well as those to help find a more casual encounter. To counterbalance the scale, some people feel that there should be a way to protect themselves against contracting an STD through some of these apps. It would take both partners being willing to divulge personal medical history, which is not something that everyone is willing to do before a first date.
Although, for those who have tested positive for lifelong diseases such as HIV and AIDS, there has been a positive response in the development of apps to seek one another out. We can expect to see the sexual health culture continue to shift into the mainstream in the future.
One way to empower individuals to protect themselves against the perils of infection is to provide them with the tools to do so. There are a number of products currently being tested that are designed to serve as a line of defense for those who are sexually active. Some of the following multi-purpose preventative technologies (MPT) are currently being trialed and hope to be hitting the market in the near future:
- Origami male condom: A prototype based on the traditional male barrier method redesigned to be looser fitting and more closely resemble the sensation of natural sex.
- Vaginal ring: Similar to the Nuvaring that holds hormones to prevent pregnancy, in addition to being a birth control would also protect against HIV and herpes with the presence of the medication Tenofovir.
- Vaginal film: A thin piece of film placed before intercourse which contains monoclonal antibodies that counteract STD antigens to prevent against herpes and HIV.
- Hydrogel condom: Funded by the Gates Foundation, this hydrogel would replace male condoms. It is composed of the same material as contact lenses and would closely resemble the feeling of human skin, thereby reducing the argument of not wanting to use a condom because of loss of sensation.
- Vaginal tablet: The tablet contains the medication Tenofovir, which would be placed prior to intercourse and dissolves internally to prevent contracting herpes or HIV.
If you are unaware that you have contract a sexually transmitted disease, you could unknowingly be playing a role in the spread of the disease. Some STDs do not exhibit symptoms, leading to the host acting as an unsuspecting carrier. You can help to prevent the spread of STDs by getting tested regularly if you are sexually active. Foster a healthy relationship with your partner(s) to enable you to have an open conversation about sexual health.