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Genital human papillomavirus (HPV)

About the virus; detection & preventing transmission

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The genital human papillomavirus (HPV) and other viruses:

HPV consists of a large group of more than 100 different types of sexually transmitted infection (STI) viruses. 1 They are passed from person to person during sexual activity -- generally during penile-vaginal or penile-anal sex. It is also possible to contract HPV from skin to skin contact without actually engaging in sexual intercourse.

Some of the strains of HPV are harmless; they produce no symptoms, and disappear over time for both females and males. Other strains can cause cauliflower-like genital warts in both sexes. Unfortunately, some varieties can, over time, trigger cancer of the cervix in women. About 70% of these cancers are caused by HPV types 16 and 18. 2 Less commonly, HPV can cause cancer of the anus, vagina and/or vulva. Rarely, males can contract anal or penile cancer from HPV. 3

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that "at least 50% of sexually active people will get HPV at some time in their lives." 4 The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services estimates that about 75% of sexually active people will get HPV at sometime. 1 Half of all sexually active women between 18 and 22 in the U.S. are currently infected. In comparison:

bulletType 1 herpes (HSV-1) -- the virus that causes recurrent cold sores most often on the mouth or elsewhere on the face -- is carried by over 80% of the population. It is frequently passed from adults to infants by kissing.

bullet Type 2 herpes (HSV-2) -- the virus that is more likely to cause sores in the genital area -- is carried by 5 to 20% of the population. Some people have had only a single outbreak; others experience recurring outbreaks. 5

The risk of contracting HPV is much higher for women who:

bullet Engage in sexual activity with male partners who do not regularly use condoms,

bulletBecame sexually active before the age of 18,

bulletHave had many sexual partners,

bulletHave had sexual partner(s) who have had many other sex partners, and

bullet Have been previously infected with other STIs.

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Preventing  HPV infection:

bulletSexual abstinence: If all premarital, postmarital and extramarital intercourse and other sexual activity involving genital skin contact were eliminated, then HPV transmission would be rare or nonexistent. However, premarital intercourse occurs at about a 95% rate in the U.S., and extramarital intercourse occurs at about the 40% level. In a sex-saturated culture, motivating most of the population to confine sexual intercourse and other behavior to their marriage partner is one tall order.

bullet Condoms: The use of condoms lowers the rate of HPV transmission. Unfortunately, it is still possible to transfer HPV virus by way of skin contacting one's partner in areas not covered by a condom. Public health groups actively promote the use of condoms as an effective prevention method for HPV and other STIs. Many conservative Christian groups teach that condoms are totally or largely ineffective.

It is interesting to note that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Internet report on the Pap Test, which includes a great deal of information on HPV and its prevention, made no mention either the use of condoms or the HPV vaccine as methods of reducing the transmission rate of the virus as of 2008. 1

bullet Vaccination: The Gardasil® vaccine was approved during 2006 for use both in the U.S. and Canada. It is important to realize that it provides protection only against certain strains of the HPV virus, including the two strains that cause cervical cancer. It offers absolutely no protection against syphilis, gonorrhea, HIV -- the virus that causes AIDS -- and many other STIs.

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Detecting HPV infection:

Most women have HPV or have had or will have it at some time during their life. It is safest for sexually active women to assume that they are infected and have their cervix monitored regularly, unless their physician states that the test is not needed.

Unless otherwise indicated, Pap Smears (a.k.a. pap test) should be a routine part of every sexually active woman's medical checkups. Surface cells from her cervix are collected and analyzed in the lab for the presence of pre-cancerous or cancerous cells. This is usually a painless test. If done regularly, this test can detect cell abnormalities in the cells of the cervix before they become cancerous. In the U.S., Planned Parenthood and "programs funded by the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program (NBCCEDP) offer free or low-cost Pap tests to women in need.1 In Canada, the universal Medicare program makes them available at no cost to all female residents. 6

The need for Pap tests will continue even after a woman is vaccinated, because the vaccine does not protect against all strains of HPV.

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This topic continues on the next essay

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Pap Test," U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, 2006-MAR, at: http://womenshealth.gov/
  2. "HPVinfo," The Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada, at: http://www.hpvinfo.ca/
  3. Sheryl Ubelacker, "Parents, teens in favour of HPV vaccine," Canadian Press, 2006-DEC-06, at: http://www.canada.com/
  4. "The basics about genital HPV & cervical cancer," Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at: http://www.cdc.gov/
  5. Chris Smith, "Herpes Simplex Virus Fact File," Health matters library, at: http://www.abc.net.au/
  6. "Medicare (Canada)," Wikipedia, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/

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Site navigation (partial list of entries):

 Home page > Morality > HPV > here

 Home page > Sex > HPV > here

 Home page > "Hot" topics > HPV > here

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Copyright © 2007 to 2012 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally published: 2007-JAN-08
Last updated 2012-OCT-16

Author: Bruce A Robinson
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