The Human Papillomavirus is a virus which consists of double stranded DNA and is transmitted sexually. It comes in voluminous forms that affect the body in numerous ways. Current observations show that some strands of the virus can result in genital warts, while others remain latent in an individual for long periods of time without any noticeable differences in the vaginal or penal area. Some of the latent strands can cause cervical changes that lead to cancer. Studies have shown that 90% of diagnoses regarding cervical cancers are due to HPV infection (1). HPV can infect males and females, but only lead to cancer in women. Cervical cancer is the second leading cause of cancer related deaths in women worldwide. (1).
College aged women have the highest prevalence of HPV ranging from 10-40%, (2) so it is important to question why many college women have not heard of this disease or are often misinformed. Media coverage is one explanation of this inaccurate information. Even though there has been a lot of research conducted regarding HPV, 50% of these cases are missing important information such as not advising that condoms are not entirely effective at blocking this infection (3).
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Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a significant source of morbidity and mortality in the United States and worldwide (4). Genital human papillomavirus (also called HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) (2). HPV is so prevelant that more than half of all sexually active adults will be infected at some point in their lifetime. Young women that are sexually active are at risk for both the infection of HPV and resulting clinical complications (4).
There are more than forty HPV types that can infect the genital areas of both males and females alike. These types of HPV can also infect the mouth and throat. Most people who become infected with HPV are not even aware they have contracted this disease. Due to this, HPV is drastically different than herpes or HIV (the virus that causes AIDS) (5). Genital human papillomaviruses (HPVs) induce benign epithelial lesions of the internal and external genitalia and are closely associated with several ano-genital malignancies, especially cervical cancer (1). HPV lives in the body's epithelial cells. These are flat and thin cells found on the skin's surface of the body and also on the surface of the vagina, anus, vulva, cervix, penis head, mouth, and throat (3). Most HPV infections are treated by the body's immune system and do not result in clinical complications (4).
While there is no treatment for the virus itself, there are treatments for the diseases that HPV can cause (5). Further, although there are neither effective HPV prevention strategies nor good treatments for individuals with genital warts or cervical lesions, there are available treatments that focus on removing the affected area, but recurrence is often common (4).
Signs, Symptoms, and Potential Health Problems
HPVs have long been recognized as the etiologic agents of genital and nongenital warts. The involvement of these DNA tumor viruses in so-called flat condylomata of the cervix was recognized in the 1970's. This ultimately led to their identification in cervical cancers and other malignant genital tumors (1).
While most people with HPV do not develop symptoms or health problems, certain types of HPV often causes genital warts in males and females. Infrequently, these types can also cause warts in the throat - a condition called recurrent respiratory papillomatosis or RRP (5). Genital warts can look like bumps or growths. Sometimes they are even shaped like a cauliflower. The warts can show up weeks or even months after exposure to an infected sexual partner (3).
There are also different types of HPV that can cause cervical cancer (5). It is important that women get screened regularly for HPV by having a routine Pap (Papanicolaou) smear (1) done once a year. Symptoms are usually not noticed until the cancer is rather advanced. These types of HPV can also infect numerous locations of the human body including the vulva, vagina, penis, anus, head and neck, which also rarely show any signs or symptoms until they are advanced and are hard to treat (5).
Prevention and Vaccinations
There are several ways that people can lower their chances of contracting HPV, but the only action that is 100% preventative is abstinence. One can also lower their chances of being infected with HPV if they limit the number of partners to which they engage in oral sex or genital-to-genital contact (5). Condoms can reduce the chance of acquiring HPV, but it is not 100% effective because the virus is often on parts not covered by the condom (6).
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There are two types of vaccines to try to help prevent HPV. The names of these vaccines are Gardasil and Cervarix (7). Gardasil is available to protect against most genital warts in both men and women. Gardasil along with Cervarix both are available to protect women from the types of HPV that cause cervical cancer (5).
Approximately 6.2 million new HPV infections occur every year in the United States and approximately 20 million individuals are currently infected. HPV is spread by skin-to-skin sexual contact and is prevalent in all sexually active populations. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that at least half of all sexually active individuals will acquire HPV at some point in their lives, whereas at least 80% of women will acquire an HPV infection by age 50 (4). More than a third of sexually experienced young women who are not infected with human papillomavirus (HPV) become infected during a two-year period (6).
The greatest risk factors for infection include gender, youth, and sexual activity, with the highest rates being consistently found in sexually active women under 25 years of age (4). In the United States, it is estimated that 10% of the population has an active HPV infection, 4% has an infection that has caused cytological abnormalities, and an additional 1% have infection causing genital warts. Although 1% of Americans have clinically visible genital warts, as many as 13% of those attending STD clinics have genital warts (4).
The viral strand known as HPV 16 alone is linked to more than 50% of all cervical cancers, therefore, creating heightened interest in the increase of HPV 16. One study utilized an experimental serological test to determine the presence of antibodies to HPV 16, which signify prior exposure to HPV, instead of the more commonly assessed viral DNA which is indicative of active infection (4).
Since the Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a significant source of morbidity and mortality in the United States and worldwide, (4) it is obvious that HPV is a serious infection that needs to be routinely screened for by everyone who is or has been sexually active. Making people more aware of the risks and lethality of HPV can effectively make them want to get routinely checked and in turn increase the condition of their life and further save many others.