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Ukiah the Next Day

We've travelled through "Ukiah After Dark," setting sail on the inland party boat. But now it's time to deal with the unhappy consequences of a night on the town as experienced by many young people in Ukiah.

I regret to inform the more successful late-night navigators that they now may be one of the millions of Californians living with a sexually transmitted infection(s), especially if you are between the at-risk ages of 15-24. Most likely your recent acquisition(s) was (were) a result of reckless and excessive drinking which renders your brain's frontal lobe into an mush of sexual desire and bad judgment. Your ability to say, "I'm not interested in you," or even perhaps "I don't like you," tends to vanish as Eros replaces rationality. Normal cognitive processes fly out the window.

Even your uncanny ability to pass fake phone numbers to would-be Romeos and Juliets is neutralized by the cunning and baffling power of alcohol. As your decision-making skills become impaired, your consumption of alcohol increases. Your body's usually reliable natural resistances to having unprotected sex with what under sober circumstances would be an undesirable partner, in your impaired mind becomes the most desireable person ever concocted.

Now let's look at what you most likely contracted in your alcohol-fueled stupor and see what that means fiscally for the state of California.

According to a recent study by the Public Health Institute, the eight most common types of infections are chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, genital herpes, HPV, hepatitis B, trichomoniasis, and HIV.

Next, let's explore some popular bacteria and viruses, how you get them, the symptoms, and the treatment options.

Chlamydia is a bacteria that infects the penis, vagina, eye, urethra, or anus of three million Americans, 75% of whom are under the age of 25. Chlamydia can be particularly sneaky because it largely goes undetected, and the longer it does the more at risk the health of its carriers becomes. 75% of women and 50% of men who contract chlamydia don't have any symptoms but are still carriers; which is especially dangerous for women. Vaginal irritation, abnormal discharge, irregular bleeding, and pain during intercourse are indications for a woman that she has contracted the bug, but because many women don't experience any symptoms, chlamydia is rapidly spread. If left untreated for too long the bacteria may infect the cervix, the uterus and eventually lead to the inflammation of the pelvis (PID), as well as create vaginal scarring and even infertility.

Without proper medical attention health complications increase, making it important to get regular check-ups even if you consider yourself a sexually responsible person. Once detected, chlamydia is treated with antibiotics that eventually purge the bacteria from your body. A medical practitioner will give you a prescription at a local pharmacy and advise you not to have sex until you have taken the full schedule of antibiotics and that medical practitioner concludes that you are 100% chlamydia-free. Preventive measures during penile-vaginal intercourse are straightforward: make sure the male person involved wears a condom.

The Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is actually more than a hundred related viruses that may cause extremely sensitive warts on the genitals of both men and women. Other strains create unhealthy cell changes that may lead to cancer in the cervix. Considering the severity of this condition, it's unfortunate that it's the most common. 20 million Americans carry some form of this virus, and every year five a half million more are infected. The incredibly contagious HPV is transmitted through touch; it's that easy. Sexual intercourse doesn't have to take place, so ordinary protective measures won't protect you against this disease. HPV is not always visible either so most carriers are unaware that they are in fact hosting the virus. Affected areas that are visible are usually red or pink and create an incessant itching sensation. The level of discomfort of course varies depending on the location of the virus. Other strains create raised bumps that may resemble a cauliflower.

Treating HPV is altogether different than the treatment options available for carriers of chlamydia. Bacterias go away with proper care, viruses don't. Fortunately, there is an HPV vaccine that suppresses the virus called Gardasil. Unfortunately, HPV may seemingly be gone forever only to reappear when your immune system is suppressed. Laser surgery, acid treatments, and cryotherapy are some possibilities to control more serious outbreaks of the virus. Creams and other applications are available for smaller irritations. Once contracted, the best preventive measure is practicing better health. Recreational drinking and smoking are highly discouraged as they weaken the immune system and allow the virus to resurface. Healthful eating, plenty of sleep, and regular exercise discourage outbreaks.

The fiscal effects are just as ugly. In 2000 the economic impact of the 9.1 million cases of those infected was $6.5 billion in California alone, not including indirect costs such as loss of work productivity. That's an alarming number considering an enormous number of cases go undetected and therefore remain undocumented. Dr. Petra Jerman, author of the Institute's recent study, believes that unreported cases are of greatest concern. "The estimated number of new cases and their associated costs illustrate that the STD [or STI] epidemic among California's youth remains largely hidden." In other words, STI's are spreading so rapidly without detection that people in the health and medical field are unable to fully calculate the epidemic's economic impact.

But who really cares about the state's economy when your crotch is itching? The problem is complex, but the solution is simple: get a means of protection to the at-risk group, i.e., bars need to provide free condoms in their bathrooms.

Last week when I wrote about the Ukiah party boat and its port locations I failed to report the seriousness of the STI epidemic. Next time you walk into a bar keep in mind that the majority of people there have some from of STI. Young people between the ages of 15-24 are having unprotected sex and transmitting infections to lots of other young people. Knocking the un off of unprotected sex is most realistically accomplished through condom accessibility at the right times and health education all the time. Discreetly putting condoms in the hands of party-goers (for starters) greatly increases the chances that the young lust bunnies will use them. Often people just forget to use them because they're drunk.

Let's face it, encouraging safe sex and moderate and responsible drinking doesn't work when the target audience is already drunk at 1:30 in the morning just before the bars close. But providing condoms would have an enormous impact on decreasing the spread of STI's.

Protected and safe sex isn't always practiced because condoms aren't accessible at the right times in the right places. I challenge every bar in the County to give away free condoms. It's important for individuals to be mindful of the dangers of unprotected sex, but proprietors of bars and clubs have an additional responsibility to promote safe sex by providing a means for their customers to exercise informed decisions. They're profiting nicely from the behavior their businesses facilitate. Providing condoms in a dispensary located in the bathrooms of both genders would positively effect the STI epidemic, and maybe offer a reminder of what tends to happen to their drunk patrons. I'm sure they would go fast at places like the Forest and Perkins Street clubs when most of the patrons are thoroughly drunk and aren't looking to wrap-up the evening at the stroke of 2am.

Alcohol and Other Drug prevention programs and sex education schemes may work in theory, but not after six drinks and two hours at a bar or club, and the beast on the bar stool next to yours is looking more and more like Eros incarnate. Refraining from sex may be easy in a mountain crevasse in northeastern Afghanistan where the inhabitants are devout Muslims and any kind of sex except one man on top of one woman will get you killed, but Ukiah at 2am is not a mosque. I also doubt that most readers of the AVA are strict adherents of Islam.

Be mindful of who you are with, what they're wearing and what their bodies may be invisibly carrying. Otherwise, you're likely to wake up with more than just a hangover.

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