Chlamydia and LGV

Chlamydia is a sexually transmitted bacteria that enjoys living inside and on the gay male body, utilizing sex as its mode of transportation. From a rectal infection to one inside of the penis urethral canal, this common, blah, blah, blah.

Right now, depending on which order you are reading our website, you should be seeing a pattern. If it’s a virus or bacteria, STDs are a mainstay of the gay male community, with some ravaging certain segments a bit more than others. Yes, we will get to some facts about chlamydia and how to test for it, cure it, because it can be, and how to avoid it, but we at GMJ decided to take a new route in discussing STDs with you. Don’t worry; this won’t take long.

Let’s begin,

The issue that our community is having is not about sex, because people of just about every sexual orientation enjoy having sex. Our issue is not about contracting STDs in general, because anyone who has sex is at risk for contracting one or all of the sexually transmitted diseases. It’s not about how we have sex, because other orientations have oral, and anal sex. The issue is how we approach sex and then create a high level of stigma around it afterwards. We need to begin addressing issues of gay male sex education, routine STD testing and increasing communication, without shame-blame. In 2009, chlamydia was the most common bacterial sexually transmitted infection in the UK. But how many conversations about it do you think happened before the sexual act(s), verses the angry one’s after, and the subsequent levels of stigma and shaming?

No matter what other companies, non-profits, doctors and even scientists and governments want you to believe, latex condom usage, limiting your number of sexual partners and/or maintaining a monogamous relationship, is solely for the purpose of reducing your chances/odds of contracting an STD. This method of “safer sex, is far from a guarantee, because many guys have picked up everything from syphilis to HIV after having sex with only one guy, sometimes his boyfriend/husband.

There are even the truly unlucky that contract an STD when using a condom or losing/giving up/sharing, his virginity. Sometimes it can feel like playing the lottery.

Even though we do have tools to place the win in our corner each and every time, life is about learning, and making mistakes, so shaming those that have not been as educated, informed, or plain ole fortunate as you only makes the situation worse for him, our community, and eventually back around to you. Stigma is proven to reduce the level of STD testing.

Because our population is so relatively small, it’s very easy for us to transmit and contract STDs back and forth, over and over again, if we are not being regularly tested and treated. But no one wants to have an honest conversation about why. The answer is lack of action based on stigma. This stigma is not limited to HIV, and STDs but also to sexual positions (tops vs. bottoms), fetishes, and even internalized homophobia about gay male sex itself.

We’re not going to get into much detail about all of those now, because we have a Piece on stigma, but we truly want you to understand how much power and control you have over these two problems.

1. As far as STDs are concerned, you already know the basic ways to avoid infection, including abstinence, condoms, communication, testing and treatment. Oh, and a good soapy hand and penis washing is always a good measure.

2. The solution to stigma is just as simple, STOP JUDGING OTHERS. We all have sexual practices that someone finds objectionable (like gay sex), we all make mistakes, have set-backs, and make poor decisions that we try to learn from. But, we all also should extend compassion to others that are facing not just STDs but any illness. Perfection is not in the human DNA. What you give today, may find you tomorrow, be it compassion or chlamydia.

How do I know that I have contracted chlamydia?

First off, you would’ve had to have some sort of sexual contact or intercourse with another person, with bodily fluids being exchanged (except saliva). This includes both unprotected anal and oral sex. But, just like with most other STDs, at least 50% of guys will show no symptoms at all. As a community we must rely on the other percentage that does, to be our “canaries in the coal mines”. Once they begin getting tested and treated after becoming symptomatic, and everyone else does so at least every three (3) months, we can begin to bring down our infection numbers and rate.

For those unlucky fellows that do show symptoms, they will usually take the forms of:

  • Thick, milky, watery, or yellow discharge from penis
  • Painful urination/ejaculation
  • Rectal pain, discharge, or bleeding
  • Red, inflamed eye Red, inflamed joint

OR

  • Burning and itching around the opening of the penis
  • Pain and swelling in the testicles (usually only on one side)
  • Sore throat

Commonly a medical provider will detect chlamydia with a urine sample and/or a swab down your urethra.

BUT(T)

Higher rates of rectal infection have been showing up in our community, and doctors are beginning to research and recommend anal screenings for chlamydia in gay males who have been on the receiving end of anal sex (“the bottoms”). As symptoms may include changes to the mucus membrane, which may contribute to higher rates of HIV infection. For this reason, asking your doctor to, not only perform a urethral test but also a rectal one, just to be on the safe side, is a good practice.

Is there a cure?

Yes, there is a treatment, which does lead to a cure for chlamydia. Your healthcare provider should instruct you to take the medication as directed, until completed. Any and all symptoms you may have had will fade with time, with no lasting effects. You shouldn’t return to being sexually intimate, with anyone, before getting the “all clear” from the doctor. But remember, you may contract chlamydia again, and again if you don’t change your practices.

LGV, The new kid on the block

Lymphogranuloma venereum (LGV) is a bacterial infection caused by a number of sub-types of the bacteria chlamydia trachomatis (types L1, L2, L2b and L3). These sub-types can have more serious consequences than the more common variants of chlamydia. They are more invasive and can spread beyond the mucosal lining (the tissue which covers various passages and cavities exposed to the air such as the mouth and rectum), causing inflammation and destruction of tissue.

Ok, think of this as a weird mutant brother of chlamydia. It is in the same family but transmission and treatment is a bit different. Also, it is not commonly tested for so you will need to ask for it specifically when visiting your doctor. You should be screened for LGV, and other STDs, every 3 months, even if you are not showing symptoms.

Until 2003, these strains of chlamydia were thought to only be in Asia, Africa and the Caribbean. When it began to show in the UK, those infected were thought to be travelers. A cluster in The Netherlands changed how the European Union began to address this STD. The greatest numbers and research, have been in the UK, Germany, France and, of course, The Netherlands, even though infection clusters are beginning to show in North America.

Here are some stats we found, for those of you that like to follow the numbers:

Between 2003 and 2008 a total of 849 individuals were diagnosed with LGV in the UK – the largest number of cases in Europe. All but five were MSM. Their average age was 37, three-quarters also had HIV and half had another STI at the time of LGV diagnosis. Cases were seen across the UK but concentrated in London, Brighton and Manchester. The number of cases recorded in 2009 and 2010 was higher than in previous years. However, in comparison to infections such as gonorrhoea and chlamydia, the numbers diagnosed with LGV remain low.

With numbers this small, you might wonder why we are concerned about this STD. The answer is based on the symptoms, how it is spread, the lack of full screening and the length of treatment. Let’s take a look at each one individually.

  • Symptoms

The Symptoms can be complex and severe, causing inflammation, lymph node infection, fever, muscular pain and general ill-health. Symptoms can develop on different parts of the body, such as the genitals, the anus, rectum, oral cavity and lymph nodes. There are three stages of infection and symptoms vary depending on which part of the body is infected. Some people with LGV may not experience any symptoms but they can still pass the infection to their sexual partners.

Stage one: A small painless blister or sore appears where the infection first entered the body: this may go unnoticed. If stage one occurs inside the anus then it may cause rectal inflammation or proctitis. This is the commonest symptom of LGV in MSM. The painful inflammation may result in ulceration, discharge, bleeding, constipation, and a feeling of needing to defecate (tenesmus). Fever and lower abdominal pains may develop. If you are experiencing ANY of these symptoms, please seek medical care immediately. They will not go away on their own and can become more severe and even permanent without treatment!

Stage two: Occurs two to six weeks later, usually after the appearance of an LGV ulcer somewhere. Inflamed and swollen lymph glands may then appear near the groin, armpit or neck. If untreated these can swell to large abscesses full of pus (buboes) which then burst through the skin.

Stage three: May occur months or years later if LGV is not diagnosed and treated. Chronic symptoms can become scarring, causing permanent damage to the affected area. Untreated rectal infection leads to rectal stricture which may require surgery. The penis and sac that contains the testicles can swell massively with fluid. Spread of the bacteria throughout the body can occasionally lead to arthritis or inflammation of the lungs.

Like most STDs in males, many are asymptomatic but for those that do show signs, this can be a very uncomfortable to painful infection. For the majority of gay males, this is an issue for those that “bottom” for anal sex and/or fisting.

  • Transmission

The vast majority of patients have an anal infection of LGV but, oral and penile cases, though very rare, have been found. Because chlamydia is a bacteria, it is very easy to transmit and a transfer of bodily fluids is not necessary. The basics are the same as with other STDs; unprotected anal sex and/or fisting, toys. LGV is a major issues for bottoms and not tops, who seem to be more carriers than infected. This strange twist plays out in venues where multiple partners can be had within a short period of time, like a sex party, sauna and bathhouses.

“It has been suggested that, if man 1 has insertive anal intercourse with man 2, and then goes on to have insertive anal intercourse with man 3, LGV could be passed from man 2 to man 3. The transmitter of LGV does not have the infection himself, but his penis could transfer the bacteria from one man to another. This could also happen if he used a condom, but used the same condom for both partners. LGV can probably be passed in a similar way during fisting or fingering, even if a fisting glove is used, but not changed between partners. Transmission can also happen if enemas or douching equipment are shared without proper cleaning between partners.” (From Makingitcount.org.uk)

What this all means is that, without knowing it, a top can spread LGV to many, unsuspecting partners within a short span of time, even if he never had intercourse or shared bodily fluids, just by touching each of his victims’ anus. This is why this STD is a concern for us. Gay males have been taught that condoms are the only protection we need and that sharing of bodily fluid is the main and sometimes only way to contract an STD. LGV shows that we must think broadly as it comes to sex and not forget the basics, like hand washing.

  • Screening

Many, but not enough, gay males know to get screened and tested for chlamydia. But usually this is for oral and penile infections with a urine sample. For LGV, there must be an anal swabbing. But this has also shown some issues as some guys have been positive for the STD, but the test results gave a false negative. This is one of the times you will need to be well informed and make sure that your doctor has taken into account your symptoms as well as the test results, and if necessary test again.

  • Treatment

First-line treatment is usually with doxycycline 100 mg twice-daily for 21 days. Protocols using doxycycline are successful both in those who are and are not co-infected with HIV. This is the same medication used to treat traditional chlamydia infection but the length of time is much greater. Traditionally, treatment is once a day for one week. It is this longer course that causes great concern as many people are known to stop treatment if and when the primary symptoms cease. Because LGV is more invasive, the treatment is longer but two times a day for 21 days is a long time for a guy who never or rarely takes medication. This could lead to an increase of infections and re-infections. We strongly urge you to complete the full round of medication and then speak with your doctor before going back out to play.

What you can do

The first thing is get yourself educated. Even though LGV is not very common in the United States, just wait a moment, it will be. As more guys travel for work and sex, as well as the ease in contracting this STD, it will without a doubt show up in your city or town, if it has not already.

If you are a top, you have the best chance of spreading this illness, with or without your knowledge. Hand washing with anti-bacterial soap is very important. Also, do not stick your bare or covered fingers inside of the anus/rectum of random guys. This practice infects every guy along your path. This goes the same for dildos and other toys. Finally, if you are topping for anal intercourse, always use a fresh condom between partners. (yes, this must be said)

If you are a bottom, or the receptive partner, getting screened for LGV can keep you and other bottom guys safe. If you are infected, get treated and take the medication until completed. Regular testing, every 3 months, is advised for this very reason. Also, wash all toys and insertive objects before usage.

  • Group Sex

Sex parties and public sex venues are going to take a huge PR hit by those within and outside of our community because of this STD. There are many that cannot wait to “slut shame” and stigmatize those who attend these sorts of events. But we at GMJ understand the value that they hold and support their operations as methods for safe sex education, condom distribution/usage as well as STD testing sites.

From our professional (and personal) research, we believe that one of the most common modes of transmission for LGV inside of these spaces is the common practice of “fingering”. This activity is not considered to be sexual intercourse, and of course, no bodily fluids are exchanged. But as explained above, one guy, with a busy finger could infect a large number of guys as he goes about his merry way. LGV and respect for a guys asshole, is a major reason this practice needs to stop. Not only is it invasive without permission, it can infect a man with a very nasty STD that will require 21 days of medication and down time.

 

One last thing…

Please remember, that contracting an STD is a normal part of sexual life. It is not the end of your’s. Don’t feel bad, mad or sad. Hey, it might become a funny story one day, down the road,…way, down the road. But doing everything that you can to keep from becoming infected is the best way to go.

Start with your brain and then open your mouth and honestly communicate with your partner(s) about testing and infection, and then finally use levels of latex protection properly and consistently. HIV is not the only illness that our community needs to be aware of and the wonderful medications that comprise PREP/PEP do not protect against ANY OTHER STDs besides HIV.

If you choose to not use latex protection, and you are not absolutely certain that your partner(s) is negative for all STDs, you are placing yourself at high risk. Knowledge and testing are the keys to keeping this sexually transmitted disease at bay.