Monday, March 16, 2009

What happens when even "safe" sex isn't good enough?

What happens when even "safe" sex isn't good enough? Leigh Belz reports on HPV, the most common-and very easily spread--STD.

The statistics are shocking: According to the American Social Health Association (ASHA), 75 percent of Americans between the ages of 15 and 49 have been infected by the genital strain of the human papillomavirus (HPV), the proven precursor to cervical cancer. But before you run to your gynecologists, it's important to get the basics on the virus, so you can put the numbers in perspective. Here, the facts on HPV.

What is it?
HPV is a sexually transmitted disease(STD) that is spread through direct contact. The virus is often asymptomatic (meaning there won't be any signs you have it)but can sometimes show in the form of genital warts. the ASHA's National HPV and Cervical Cancer Prevention Center estimates that more than 5.5 million new cases of HPV occur each year--that's one-third of all new STD infections. Don't let the numbers freak you out, though. There are more than 100 different strains of the virus, many of which are harmless and will naturally filter out of your body within one to two years. "For about 85 percent of the young girls who contact HPV, their immune system can fight it," says Christine Waldron, an ob-gyn at Women's Health Care of New England. And even those who contract a high-risk type of HPV may not develop cervical cancer.
How can you get it?
Genital HPV is transmitted through skin-to-skin contact, not an exchange of bodily fluids, which explains why condom use doesn't completely prevent the spread of the disease--they don't cover the entire genital area where the virus lives. Although a condom can't completely protect you from HPV, it does help minimize the risk of contracting it.

Does it affect males?
According to Waldron, the high-risk starins of HPV that get into females' cervical cells rarely affect males' systems because the skin around their genitals is tougher and less penetrable. Like females, males are carriers of HPV and can show symptoms, such as genital warts, but most often HPV isn't problematic for their bodies.

Should you be worried if you have HPV?
Though it's true that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 4,000 women in the U.S, die of cervical cancer each year, most strains of HPV are trancient and go away on their own. HPV affects your body much like a cold--because it doesn't enter the bloodstream, it doesn't lead to a strong physical immunological response. Having HPV becomes a bigger issue if you contract a train that leads to cervical dysplasia--the production of abnormal or precancerous cells in the cervix.

How do you prevent it?
As reported in The New York Times, two major drug companies are currently working on vaccines to prevent HPV. One, called Gardasil, could have FDA approval by the end of this year and has been shown to be effective in preventing the HPV types most commonly found in cervical cancer. But while getting a preventive vaccine seems simple, shots like Gardasil are quite controversial. the vaccine would be administered to eleven- and twelve-year-olds, causing some conservative doctors and lawmakers to argue that giving a preteen a vaccine against an STD clashes with calls for abstinence. So though a vaccine is on the horizon, it might not be immediately available. In the meantime, Waldron and the CDC agree that the best method for reducing the risk of HPV is abstinence from below-the-belt contact.

Should teens get the HPV test?
The HPV test screens for the thirteen most common strains associated with cervical cancer. According to Waldron, ASHA, and a report in the New England Journal of Medicine, it's not necessary for teens to get the test if they haven't had an abnormal Pap smear; the type of genital HPV that causes your body to produces precancerous cells and could lead to cervical cancer will show up in a regular Pap test. Mild versions of HPV are common among sexually active young women under 30 and, again, often resolve themselves without medical intervention. The commercials you may have caught on TV are aimed at women over 30, who are statistically more at risk than teens for developing cervical cancer from HPV.

1 comment:

teacher3rs said...

Perhaps this is this a re-run of an older blog? Gardasil has been approved by the FDA and on the market for some time. My daughter took the 3 injections, the last shot was received on was Jan 08 ~ Over a year ago. She has had a number of SIDE EFFECTS that have lingered on and on.