You may have read my previous post on different methods of contraception, which obviously brings up thoughts and concerns about STIs. There are many different types of sexually transmitted infections that can be spread, and using a condom is usually your best bet for protecting yourself and your partner. This is not always the case, though. I thought it may be important to shed some light on an STI that is a little different and can become extremely dangerous in some cases; the human papilloma virus. This virus is unique for a number of different reasons, and I think it’s very important to be educated about it in order to protect yourself from the possible long term effects.
Papillomavirus is a DNA virus that survives in over one hundred different forms. A large number of these different types are transmitted through sexual contact and mainly affect the genital region of a person. Some forms of the virus are harmless and show no signs or symptoms in a person. This type is very common, but it eventually goes away on its own and is virtually harmless. Other types of HPV can cause issues like genital warts, which can be treated by a physician. The most intense form of the virus has been found to be cancer causing, of which there are 10-15 types. The most common form of cancer caused by HPV is cervical cancer. But recent studies have shown links between the virus and a large number of other cancers, including cancers of the lungs, throat, head, and neck. These types of cancer-causing infections can often only be treated if caught early.
Another reason HPV is different from a lot of other STIs, besides being the most commonly spread worldwide, is its transmission. HPV can be shared through intercourse of any type (oral, anal, vaginal), through skin-to-genital contact (it has been found on hands of infected people or partners of infected people) and even through shared objects (usually objects used in sexual activity). These forms of transmission are much less common or even nearly impossible with a lot of other STI’s, making HPV that much more dangerous.
This may all sound very alarming, which it is. But HPV does have one advantage: vaccines. The vaccines that are currently available are designed to treat HPV Types 16 and 18, which cause about 70% of the cervical cancer caused by HPV as well as a high number of other cancers. The vaccines are most effectives when administered to children at an early age, usually 11 or 12, before sexual activity begins. The vaccine comes in three doses, completed over the course of six months. Gardasil (a common brand of HPV vaccines) are approved for males and females ages 9-26. These vaccines work by assisting the body in producing antibodies, so when the cells do encounter HPV viruses, they can effectively bind to it and prevent it from attacking other cells in the body. If administered correctly, these vaccines are proven to be highly effective in preventing infection and cancer from forming in people who are sexually active. The National Cancer Institute has stated that “widespread vaccination with Cervarix or Gardasil has the potential to reduce cervical cancer incidence around the world by about two-thirds”.
It seems as though HPV is not as commonly talked about in regard to STIs, but it certainly one of the most dangerous. Being educated on the facts of all ST’s- what can put you at risk and how to prevent them- is crucial to staying safe when being sexually active. Reduce your risk of contracting an STI by limiting your number of partners, getting tested regularly, using a condom correctly and consistently, having a monogamous partner, getting your vaccines, or abstaining from sexual activity altogether.