Last Updated on June 4, 2020 by Nancy Carteron, MD, FACR
It’s estimated that about 10 million people in the United States (3.6 percent of the population) are immunocompromised. But that’s likely an underestimate because it only includes those with HIV/AIDS (diagnosed and undiagnosed), organ transplant recipients, and cancer patients; there’s a sizable population that takes immunosuppressive drugs for other disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease.
When coupling those statistics with that of STDs (a minimum of 1 in 4 people will contract an STD at some point in their lives), the number of people adversely affected by STDs as a result of being immunocompromised is upwards of 2.5 million American people.
This individual contacted me because she knew there were others out there like herself and she wanted to share her story so that they knew they were not alone.
When immunocompromised, STDs can cause huge complications and those STDs which are normally curable or combated by a healthy immune system often remain in the body for longer than average or produce more severe symptoms.
This is her story.
1. How old are you?
I am 30 years old.
2. What do you do for a living?
I work in a children’s mental health program as an administrative assistant. I am also going to school; I am working on receiving a Bachelor of Social Work Degree.
3. What STD do you have/have you had?
I have HPV.
4. How long have you had or known you have an STD?
I have known that I have had HPV for almost 11 years.
5. Do you know how you contracted this STD?
Yes I do.
I had unprotected sex when I was 18, which also resulted in pregnancy.
6. How has your life changed since you contracted an STD?
Well, my life has changed so much.
About every year, I go for lasers of the vulva. My HPV is very extensive because I am a heart transplant recipient and on rejection medication that weakens my immune system.
Because of the rejection medication, my body cannot fight the HPV infection.
Every day, I have to work on my self-esteem, because having a vagina full of warts really can get you down some days.
The warts are sometimes so itchy that it can drive you crazy. I can’t ever wear a sexy thong for my husband, because that would be so uncomfortable for me.
It’s amazing how my vagina has become something that is just attached to me – it’s like it’s a separate part.
I will admit, some days are better than others and when I have a day that I am not itchy and in pain and I can wear jeans – well, that’s a good day.
7. Do the people who know you have an STD treat you differently than they treated you before they knew?
I don’t know – I guess some probably think about me differently. I think that people don’t talk about STDs as much as they should.
Just because I have an STD doesn’t mean I am dirty.
I have friends who have slept with far more men than I have and they don’t have STDs.
I do feel that sometimes I am ashamed to talk about it because people might judge me, but then I think about how many other women I may be able to help because of what I am going through.
8. Are you currently under treatment for your STD? If so, please share whether you have explored prescription medication, over-the-counter medication, or holistic and natural approaches.
I just recently had a laser surgery about a week ago.
I am being followed by the cancer clinic because my HPV infection is so extensive there is always a possibility that it may turn to cancer.
I was dealing with sever dysplasia for the last 10 years until recently when physicians and I changed some of my rejection medication. It looked like the warts were getting better, but it turns out, my body was rejecting my new heart. Now I am on prednisone for rejection which has made my HPV significantly worse again.
I am at the point of considering a vulvectomy; I would love to know if others have had the procedure and if they would advise it.
As far as treatment options, I have tried lots.
I tried aldara very early on in my HPV infection, but that didn’t seem to help.
Podophyllin was extremely painful – couldn’t even sit while I was putting it on.
Other treatments included alcohol injections, two denervations for the sever itching, and I had 5fu chemotherapy intravenously. I received the gardasil vaccination hoping it would help but it hasn’t seemed to help. I am currently trying vyloma cream on some of the warts as a tester. I have tried salicylic cream from a dermatologist and I have tried botox injections for itching. I do bath in green tea regularly – especially after a laser surgery.
9. Has having an STD hindered past relationships?
It hindered my self-esteem at first.
I was very young when I contracted the virus and unfortunately, having an STD does have a huge impact on your relationship.
To be honest, oral sex isn’t something that is ever going to happen in my relationship because the virus can be transmitted through oral sex as well.
HPV is so contagious that you do not have to have intercourse to get the virus.
Having an STD is a lot to deal with for either a man or women.
It has been difficult dating, but I finally found the right man and he loved me for me. When I told him, he had questions and I was able to provide answers. He had a decision to make, and unfortunately, if they decide not to be with you it can be heart breaking.
10. Do you have a significant other? If so, how has this STD affected your partner?
I do have a significant other. We have been married almost two years.
A wart appeared [on him] and I, of course, was so upset, because I knew I had given this STD to him.
Sometimes, I don’t want to have sex for fear of giving him the virus – but his immune system cleared up the wart and he hasn’t had one [since]. I ask him every now and then if he’s noticed any. I worry all the time about him getting HPV as bad as me. The fact of the matter is, he had sex before he met me, so maybe he had HPV before he met me. Most men don’t show symptoms, therefore, he could have already been exposed.
I do know I have definitely given him HPV – even if he didn’t already have it.
11. Have you been sexually active with someone since contracting an STD whom you did not tell you had an STD?
For one thing, it’s hard to hide warts this bad. But to be honest, I can’t believe people would even think about doing this. I would have loved to have had the choice to have an STD or not; it has changed my life so much.
Imagine how hurt you would be if the person you just slept with had an STD and knew they did but didn’t tell you.
I always wonder if the person who I got HPV from tells any of his partners and I have a feeling he doesn’t.
Having HPV Is really hard and telling someone you have an STD is very hard and can break a relationship before it even starts, but I believe it is my duty to allow someone the opportunity to choose if they want to be involved with you.
I also think that being honest with people about your STD status will allow those people to love you even more because you had the courage to tell them.
12. How have you changed as a result of contracting an STD?
Everything has changed.
My entire life has changed.
I guess I am a different person completely because of having this virus. I am going to do things differently with my children when talking about sex. I was so young and ignorant; I didn’t even know HPV existed.
I believe everything happens for a reason, and one day I know I am going to help change the lives of women who have HPV.
13. Why are you choosing to participate in this interview and/or is there anything else you would like to share with The STI Project?
I am choosing to participate in this interview because my story is very unique and offers a different perspective for those dealing with HPV. I also wanted to participate because 10 years ago when I was diagnosed, HPV was so new.
The more people talk about HPV and the more research done will hopefully, one day, help those of us that are battling everyday with this virus. It is my hope that we can one day find a cure for HPV.
I also wanted to participate because many people feel alone when dealing with STDs, and it is my hope that someone may find my story inspiring and continue to help fight the stigma against STDs.
Can you relate to this interviewee? Did it help you to read someone else’s story? Have you experienced something similar or do you have some feedback to share with this individual? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!