According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the human papillomavirus (HPV) is more common than any other sexually transmitted disease in the United States. Currently, there are 79 million people in America with HPV and it is estimated another 14 million are infected. HPV virus is so common, according to the CDC, that nearly all sexually active people will get it at some point in their lives. There are also several different types of HPV, many more than previously thought. There are vaccines that will help prevent the spread of the human papillomavirus and the CDC would like to vaccinate as many men and women as possible.
HPV is spread by sexual activity with someone who has the virus. Although it does not matter whether the sexual contact is vaginal, anal or oral, there has been less occurrence of HPV passing through oral sex. It can be passed from one person to another even when no symptoms are apparent in the infected person. Symptoms can take years to develop, making it harder to track who the virus came from or when it was contracted. It is important to contact previous sexual partners when a sexually transmitted disease is discovered. Dallas County’s Health Department in Texas is currently under fire over this exact issue. They are accused of falsifying data in a way that prevented the partners of people diagnosed with a sexually transmitted disease from being contacted. The director of one of Dallas’ STD programs, Kirk Myers, pointed out, “It is vital for health departments to find persons who have been exposed to an STD, so they can be treated and not unknowingly infect others.”
For those who get genital warts, when they become visible they typically appear as a small bump in the genital area, either as a single or in a group. The warts can be flat, raised, big, or little and are sometimes shaped like a cauliflower. Gynecology healthcare providers can typically diagnose them on sight. There is currently no test for HPV, although it is often detected with cancer screenings and routine PAP smears in women.
Although HPV can go away without causing health problems, when it does not, it can cause genital warts and cervical cancer. Each year, about 360 thousand people in America are diagnosed with genital warts and more than ten thousand women get cervical cancer. Although cervical cancer is the most common manifestation of this sexually transmitted disease, cancer from HPV can also develop on the sex organs, the anus, or in the back of the throat, as it did with Michael Douglas. The form of the virus that results in genital warts is not the same type that can cause cancer.
There are many behaviors that will lower a person’s chance of contracting HPV but the vaccine tops the list. Sadly, approximately 21 thousand of HPV-related cancers each year could have been prevented by the vaccine. Both boys and girls can be vaccinated between the ages of eleven and twelve. The process takes about six months, and the vaccine is given as a series of three shots. All three doses are needed for immunity. For people who did not receive any or all the vaccines as a child, “catch-up” vaccines can be given up to the age of 21 for men and through age 26 for women. The CDC also recommends vaccinating any sexually active people, age 26 or younger, whose immunity has been compromised. For sexually active people, latex condoms used with every form of sexual activity is vital. However, not all infected areas might be able to be protected. A visual examination is advised, as is sexual monogamy. Women should continue to be screened for cervical cancer all the way up to the age of 25.
Though HPV is more common than others, it is by no means the only sexually transmitted disease Americans have to worry about. At this year’s CDC conference for the prevention of STDs, it was reported that about 400 thousand people in the U.S. have Chlamydia and do not know it. The highest infected demographic is sexually active teenage girls between the ages of 14 and 19 years old. About 6.4 percent of these girls have the infection. The rate of Chlamydia infection in boys of the same age range is 2.4 percent. This underlines the importance of routine screening for STDs for any who are sexually active.
By Jenny Hansen