60 percent of sexually active college women will contract HPV
Most of us have seen the commercials on television about human papillomavirus. And while many could care less, the reality of the virus is very dangerous for college women if it’s not detected early.
“National data suggests that 60 percent of sexually active college women will have contracted HPV,” said Jonna Fleming, sexual health education coordinator at CU.
There are more than 100 different types of the virus, according to Susan Hanafin, nurse/midwife at Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains. “Thirty of those occur around the genitals, and of the 30 now identified, there are some associated with cervical cancer,” she said.
“The only way to detect which type you have is through a pap smear,” Hanafin said.
Additionally, HPV can remain dormant for weeks or even years before becoming active. The virus is spread through skin-to-skin contact during sex.
“It is impossible to determine how long someone has had an HPV infection because we have no way of testing men unless they actually have visual warts,” Hanafin said.
Additionally, it is unclear whether condoms can protect against HPV.
“There is a debate that condoms actually prevent the spread of HPV. It is on all genital skin … present on both the penis and the testes,” Hanafin said.
Eight out of every 10 women who have ever been sexually active will be diagnosed with HPV at some point in their lives, according to the American Cancer Society Web site. The virus is most common among women in their late teens or early 20s.
These statistics are a terrifying reality for one 20 year-old female student who asked not to be identified. She is infected with the virus and recently tested positive for abnormal, possibly cancerous, cells on her cervix.
“I thought that HPV just meant you could get warts. I didn’t know anything about other types, or that it could lead to something much more threatening to my life,” she said. “What’s more upsetting to me than knowing I have an STI is that I have something in my body that is cancerous (and) not knowing when I contracted it.”
Recently, Wardenburg Health Center and the Women’s Health Clinic began providing Gardasil , one of two new vaccines that protect against the spread and contraction of human papillomavirus .
“It will be a series of two to three injections. However, we still don’t know how long it will last. There is no harm in getting it if you have HPV, but it is best if you do not already have the virus,” said Hanafin.
At this time, men who are the silent carriers of HPV cannot be treated.
“It is not approved for men yet. Merck is doing studies on men right now,” Fleming said. Merck is the company providing one of the vaccines.
Measures can also be taken to detect HPV early and prevent some of the damage the virus can cause.
“It is important for college women to regularly schedule gynecological visits and yearly pap smears, especially for those who have become sexually active for the first time,” Hanafin said.
When asked for advice for other college women, the HPV-infected student said, “Everyone can help reduce the risk of HPV and cervical cancer now. I found out that this could lead to cancer, and since I’m young, my body has a better chance of overcoming this,” she said.
“Just because I’m young doesn’t mean I’m invincible. I need to be aware of my body and my partners,” she said.