HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) sure has been in the news a lot lately. It seems to be the new STI “buzzword”, at least from my perspective. I get some sort of HPV-related email from one medical or educational community or another everyday.

HPV is sexually transmitted by skin-to-skin contact. Oral, anal, vaginal sex…doesn’t matter, any of those sexual behaviors can spread this virus. Any gender, gay or straight – HPV doesn’t discriminate. This virus just wants to be the winner….and it is! It is the most common STI there is. In fact, according to the CDC, 79 million Americans have it as we speak.

Not only is it the most common, there are over 40 strains of the virus, too. Wow – that’s a lot. As with other STI’s, most people don’t know they have it, so each time they have sex they are passing on this little gift. (Condoms, anyone?) But how common is it? Well, basically if a person is sexually active, they will likely get one strain or another at some point.

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The good news? It usually goes away without causing a problem.

The bad news? It doesn’t always go away without causing a problem. And some of these problems are BIG problems.

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Well, how about warts, for starters? There are two kinds we need to be aware of…..

Genital warts, which can appear weeks after infection, are bumps of varying shapes and sizes on the penis or vaginal area. They could worsen – or go away – with time. You just never know how your body will react.

Recurrent respiratory papillomatosis (RRP) are warts in the throat. It’s pretty rare, but if you have it, it could cause issues with breathing. If an infected mom gives birth, there is a chance their child may develop this (National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD)).

Then there’s cancer.

Lots of kinds of cancer. Penile, vaginal, anal, throat and mouth (oropharyngeal), and vulvar cancers are associated with this virus – but they are not necessarily only caused by HPV. Other factors such as smoking and alcohol use can enhance the chances of acquiring these cancers.

However, cervical cancer IS caused by HPV, with some rare exceptions. About 300,000 women die from cervical cancer worldwide according to the The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s Vaccine Education Center (vaccine.chop.edu). Over 10,000 women are diagnosed with it each year, according to the CDC.

Now that you have the creepy-crawlies, let me tell you there are ways people can avoid contracting this virus.

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Of course, the only guarantee is to be abstinent. You can’t get an STI if you aren’t having the S part of the TI. But, seeing as biology has a different plan for most people in their lifespan, we need to have a back-up plan.

Being in a monogamous relationship will help decrease the chances of contracting HPV. However keep in mind that previous sexual encounters, even years ago, can cause HPV to spread to a new sexual partner.

Use a condom. There are female and male condoms. (Just pick one or the other, please. Using two condoms doesn’t double your security – the friction of the condoms can actually cause microscopic breakage. Don’t do that.)

Be sure your child receives the three-part vaccine BEFORE they become sexually active.

In case you didn’t hear me…

Be sure your child – any gender – receives their three-part CANCER vaccine BEFORE they become sexually active. We are talking about age 11 or 12 to to begin the series. The two vaccines out now are Gardasil and Cervarix.

Talk to your healthcare provider for more information and read up on it on the web – but be sure to go to sites that are based on research, not random discussion. Good sites are the CDC, TeensHealth, Sex,Etc., Planned Parenthood, National Cancer Institute or any hospital-based educational site – to name a few. Or you can read my next blog – I’ll go into more detail there with specific links to sites. If you are not sure a site is providing accurate information, just forward their link and I’ll check it out for you. It’s a free service!

So, as you are mulling over all this STI information, you can anticipate my next blog discussion about the HPV vaccine. The good news is, it will be a much shorter blog entry.

Until next time….

If you would like information on other STI’s, please flip through my earlier blog entries.


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