HPV among most common sexually-transmitted diseases, vaccines available

While there is no cure for HPV, vaccines such as Gardasil and Cervarix can help prevent the disease, experts say.

by Student Writer Ryan Paine

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually-transmitted disease in the United States. Over 20 million people are currently infected with HPV, and around 6 million people contract the virus every year, according to the Center for Disease Control.

Dr. Mary Robbins, a Shoals area OB-GYN, said that by age 50 more than 80 percent of women and 90 percent of men will be carriers.

“HPV is an extremely common virus,” Robbins said. “There are over 100 different types.”

Forty of these types can affect the genital areas of males and females. Side effects of these strains of HPV range from the benign, such as genital warts, to the malignant, such as cancer, according to the CDC.

Every year, 20,000 women are diagnosed with HPV-related cervical cancer; 1,500 women are diagnosed with HPV related vulvar cancer; 500 women with HPV-related vaginal cancer; 400 men with HPV-related penile cancer; 2,700 women and 1,500 men with HPV-related anal cancer; and 1,500 women and 5,600 men with HPV-related oropharyngeal cancers, according to the CDC.

HPV is passed on, primarily, through sexual intercourse though it can also be passed on through anal sex, oral sex, and genital-to-genital contact, according to the CDC.

Because HPV is a largely harmless disease most of the time, few people realize they have even been infected. Furthermore, it is currently estimated that more than 50 percent of sexually active adults will contract a form of HPV in their lifetimes, according to the CDC.

The CDC recommends wearing a condom during intercourse, avoiding promiscuity and limiting your number of sexual partners to prevent HPV.

“The only way to never contract HPV is to never have sex with anyone, which is obviously impractical,” Robbins said.  

There is currently no cure, test or treatment for HPV. However, a vaccine, Gardasil, will protect both men and women from most anal cancers and genital warts. And women can also choose to get the vaccine Cervarix, which will protect users against most cervical cancers.  According to the CDC, these vaccines are recommended for all males and females between ages 11 and 26.

Robbins said the Gardasil vaccine is “definitely worth it.”

“The vaccine’s a series of three shots: you get the first one, then the second one two months later, and then the third six months after the first,” she said.

The Cervarix vaccination follows the same routine, though the second shot is administered one month after the first.