HPV or Human Papilloma Virus has been in the news lately. Twenty million people are currently infected with this sexually transmitted disease. In fact, Governor Tim Kaine passed a law in late March requiring every rising sixth grade girl in the state to be vaccinated with Gardasil, a relatively new immunization that protects against the disease.
Shannon Burns, a Nurse Practitioner with Martha Jefferson Hospital, spoke about the serious nature of the disease. HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease in sexually active men and women. Often, a person who becomes infected with the virus does not have symptoms and will clear the infection on their own in 6 to 24 months. However, the high risk types of HPV can cause abnormal PAP tests and can lead to cervical and/or vulvar cancer, as well as anal or penile cancer.
Risk factors include early sexual activity, multiple sex partners, an infected partner, smoking and immunosuppression. Even with perfect condom usage, there is a chance of transmitting the virus.
Most people would be shocked to know that at least 50% of sexually active men and women acquire genital HPV infection at some point in their lives. The virus is most common in young women under 24 years old. By age 50, at least 80% of women will have acquired the virus.
How can women reduce the risk of infection? It is very important for people to realize that usually there are absolutely no signs of HPV infection. The best way to eliminate risk for acquiring the infection is to practice abstinence before marriage.