Currently, the only form of contraception that helps protect against sexually transmitted diseases is the condom, so people who forgo this prophylactic may want to use STD testing services often. However, according to a recent study, there may be soon be another tool in the fight against sexual infections. Researchers from the Monash Institute of Medical Research have discovered that there is a protein present in the female reproductive tract that may help prevent STDs like chlamydia and the herpes simplex virus.
While these are exciting findings that suggest there may be a natural STD-prevention system built into women's bodies, this shouldn't encourage people to go out and have sex without a condom.
An important protein
According to the researchers, they have found a protein that they are now calling interferon epsilon (IFNe) that seems to help protect women against infections. They hope that this discovery could lead to a way of determining if some women are more susceptible to contracting an STD than others. Furthermore, they are also hopeful that IFNe could hold potential for treating certain STDs. This is important, considering that the antibiotics and vaccinations that are currently used to treat and prevent many of these infections and viruses can be expensive.
Researcher Paul Hertzog, Director of MIMR's Centre for Innate Immunity and Infectious Diseases, explained that this protein is produced in an unusual way. While most proteins that help protect against infection are produced after the body has been exposed to a virus or bacteria, this protein is produced naturally and is regulated by hormones. This means that levels of IFNe change during menstruation and the protein is not present during pregnancy or after menopause.
"Some of these times when normal IFNe is lowest, correlate with when women are most susceptible to STDs so this might be an important link to new therapeutic opportunities - IFNe follows different rules to normal immuno-modulatory proteins, and therefore this might also be important to vaccines and the way they're formulated to boost our protective immunity," said Hertzog, in a statement.
He added the researchers believe that it's likely that these findings will also have implications for HIV and the human papillomavirus. HPV is an extremely common virus that can potentially lead to cervical cancer.
Still cause for concern
Just because researchers have recently discovered this protein doesn't mean that it's new. Regardless of the presence of IFNe, women have been contracting STDs for centuries, which is why no one should take these findings as an excuse to practice unsafe sex.
Health Central states that it's important for people to remember that STDs are highly contagious, so they can be spread through even brief sexual encounters. The second there is genital contact or an exchange of bodily fluids such as blood or semen, there is a possibility that STDs have been spread. This is why individuals need to use a condom for every sexual encounter, including oral sex.
People also need to be honest with their partners about whether they have an STD, and be sure to ask all new sexual partners about the last time they were tested for a sexual infection. Furthermore, people should look for signs in their sexual partner that they may have an STD and aren't telling them. For example, sores and pimples around the penis and vagina, of itching around the genitals or a strange discharge may all be the signs of a STD. With new people, individuals can never be too sure if their partner is telling the truth, which is why it's important to stay on the safe side and always use protection.
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