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  • Infections in Canada: bugs, bumps, drips and itches

    We’ll spend most of this chapter talking about sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), since not only is Dick directly involved in transmitting most of these, but the penis is often the first site of infection. Unhappily, despite intense infcampaigns aimed at safe, or safer sex, millions of people every year contract one or more of these, the vast majority because they have had unprotected sex with more than one partner, or their partner has done so. We can’t emphasise too strongly the message of our chapter on condoms — no glove, no love!

    But, you say, aren’t most of these trivial infections that can be nipped in the bud these days with antibiotics? Isn’t it worth taking the risk if it means not having to bother with condoms? Not so. Extensive use of antibiotics has made some bugs — especially strains of the gonococcus that causes gonorrhea — immune to many antibiotics. Herpes and HIV are not, at the time we write, curable by any antibiotic. And, while some bugs causing STDs — such as hep B or Donovanosis — practise ‘equal opportunity’, affecting males and females in similar ways, others like chlamydia engage in ‘affirmative action’ as far as women are concerned, causing severe and silent damage before the woman even knows she’s been infected. For this reason, we make no apology for providing a lot of information about how STDs affect women. By far the best protection from all of the diseases we’re about to describe, if you don’t fancy abstinence or certain monogamy, is the careful and consistent use of condoms.

    At the end of this chapter, we also include some infections that are not sexually transmitted.

    Gonorrhoea

    Gonorrhoea is caused by a loverly little bug — pairs of little round bacteria known as cocci. It has been around for a very, very long time and remedies are mentioned in Egyptian papyrii dated from 3500 BCE. In the Old Testament (Leviticus 15), rituals of atonement are detailed for ‘him who has a discharge and for him who has an emission of semen, becoming unclean thereby; also for her who is sick with her impurity; that is, for any one, male or female, who has a discharge, and for the man who lies with a woman who is unclean’. These rituals had to do with cleanliness, and avoidance of contaminating others for prescribed periods of time, as well as making sacrificial offerings to God.

    Hippocrates, around 400 BCE, recognised that this was an affliction associated with sexual acts, but it was Galen, a Greek physician around 200 CE, who called it gonorrhoea, for ‘flow of seed’.