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Love in the time of swine flu

All relationships have their issues, many of which tend to increase as the relationships falter, combust or otherwise diminish. Going through a break-up or separation in a small community can be rough—people talk, the ex makes appearances before morning coffee, sends cryptic text messages or is otherwise annoying or hurtful when what is prayed for is a simple disappearing act. Imagine, then, that upon a break-up it is discovered that the insignificant other had been canoodling elsewhere and passed on an embarrassing parting gift in the form of a sexually transmitted disease (STD). Throw a little H1N1 virus into the mix, and the humiliation can be potentially life threatening and very, very expensive.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), those with weakened immune systems or pre-existing illness, such as sinus infections, pneumonia and STDs, are at a higher risk for more serious health complications when exposed to the H1N1 virus. In addition, CDC's latest report, released last week, illustrates that over 19 million people are infected with STDs each year in the United States, with a 12 to 18 percent increase in 2008, depending on the specific STD. With invisible viruses and bacteria creeping around like little apocalyptic parasites, it is surprising that more sexually active adults are not flocking to drugstores for surgical masks, condoms or even cruising eBay for chastity belts.

For those not willing to be secluded in celibate isolation until CDC eradicates all infectious diseases, there are simple things to do in addition to receiving the H1N1 vaccine and ingesting near-lethal doses of immune-boosting zinc and vitamin C. First and most importantly, stock up on condoms. Most family planning clinics provide an abundance of them for free; just show up and ask. Free samples are even available through major condom manufacturers' websites. It is always better to be safe than sorry with an uncomfortable itch.

Secondly, visit one of the many local clinics for STD testing and/or treatment. Planned Parenthood Golden Gate offers walk-in testing hours for women and men at its clinics in Napa (1735 Jefferson St., Napa; 707.252.8050), Marin (2 H St., San Rafael; 800.967.7526) and Sonoma (1370 Medical Center Drive, Rohnert Park; 800.967.7526), as does Women's Health Specialists (4415 Sonoma Hwy., Ste. #D, Santa Rosa; 707.537.1171). All testing and treatment services are offered at low or no cost according to income. Avoid a long, cold winter alone, and get your junk checked out.

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