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Sexually Transmitted Diseases

Vaccines In The Making

A worldwide research effort to develop a vaccine against AIDS has resulted in a series of vaccinations and clinical trials. Efforts have focused in two areas, finding a vaccine to protect individuals against the HIV virus and finding a vaccine to prevent the progression of HIV to AIDS in individuals who already have been exposed to the virus. One of many challenges facing researchers has been the ability of the HIV virus to change, making efforts to develop a single vaccine against the virus futile.

Researchers also are searching for vaccines against syphilis and gonorrhea. Experiments conducted on prisoners more than 40 years ago proved that some individuals could develop immunity to syphilis after inoculation with live Treponema pallidum, but researchers have still not been able to develop a vaccine against syphilis that is safe and effective. In part this stems from the unusual nature of the syphilis bacteria, which remain potentially infectious even when its cells are killed. An effective gonorrhea vaccine has also eluded researchers.

Immunizations are available against Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B (Hepatitis D is prevented by the Hepatitis B vaccine). The virus which causes Hepatitic C, however, is able to change its form (mutate) quite rapidly, thereby hampering efforts to develop a vaccine against it.

Without vaccinations for most of the sexually transmitted diseases, health officials depend on public information campaigns to limit the growth of the diseases. Graphic posters, public advertisements for condoms, informational brochures at college campuses, and other techniques have been attempted to make information about sexually transmitted diseases easily available.

Some critics have claimed that the increasing incidence of sexually transmitted diseases suggest that current techniques are failing. In other countries, however, the incidence of sexually transmitted disease has fallen during the same period it has risen in the United States. For example, in Sweden the gonorrhea rate fell by more than 95% from 1970 to 1989 after vigorous government efforts to control sexually transmitted disease in Sweden.

Yet the role of government funding for community health clinics, birth control, and public information campaigns on sexually transmitted disease has long been controversial. Public officials continue to debate the wisdom of funding public distribution of condoms and other services that could affect the transmission of sexually transmitted disease. Although science has made great strides in understanding the causes and cures of many sexually transmitted diseases, society has yet to reach agreement on how best to attack them.



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Patricia Braus


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—Microscopic organisms whose activities range from the development of disease to fermentation. Bacteria range in shape from spherical to rod-shaped to spiral. Different types of bacteria cause many sexually transmitted diseases, including syphilis, gonnorrhea and chlamydia. Bacteria also cause diseases ranging from typhoid to dysentery to tetanus.


—A lesion which occurs in the first stage of syphilis, at the place where the infection entered the body. The lesion is usually red and crusted initially.


—A cordlike structure located on the testes in which spermatozoa are stored.


—A bacterium shaped like a spiral.


—A subgroup in the spirochaetacae family of bacteria featuring microorganisms shaped like a spiral that move with a snapping and bending motion. One member of the sub-group, Treponema pallidum, causes syphilis.


—Agent of infection which does not have its own metabolism and reproduces only in the living cells of other hosts. Viruses can live on bacteria, animals or plants, and range in appearance from rod-shaped to tadpole-shaped, among other forms.

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Semiotics to SmeltingSexually Transmitted Diseases - The Great Imitator, Effective Treatment Developed, Continuing Challenge, From Chlamydia To Aids, Viruses More Difficult To Treat