Take a stand for your health and prevent HPV

By: Mary Hannah Neil

Many females consider themselves immune to sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and there are several factors about each STD that they may not know. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), HPV is the most prevalent STD in the US, and it is perhaps the most dangerous.

HPV is not a topic to be taken lightly. It can lead to cervical cancer in females or even genital warts. Neither of which can be cured.

According to USC Upstate health educator Sydney Will, the Gardasil vaccine does not prevent you from getting HPV all together, but it protects you from the four most cancer causing strains.

According to the CDC, there are over 600 strains of HPV. The Gardasil vaccine protects you from strains  six, 11, 16, and 18. Types six and 11 are the genital warts strains, and types 16 and 18 lead to cervical cancer, which can be deadly.

The vaccine is recommended for all female ages 11 or 12 or females up to age 26 who have not previously been vaccinated. Gardasil is a three-dose series through a six month time period.

According to Dr. Nop Rotanasiripong, who wrote an article about sexual behaviors among college-aged women in the U.S., 20 million Americans aged 15-49 are infected with HPV, and six million become infected each year.

Not only is it the most common STD in the US, it is the most common among college students. Rotanasiripong also states that the number of college students ages 18-24 with HPV rose 16 percent over the past 10 years, and the majority were females.

Family nurse practitioner Michelle Bublitz said, “Most types of HPV are harmless and they do not cause any symptoms at all and some of them even go away on their own.”

The fact that you can have HPV without any symptoms can be scary for a lot of women. It is important for college females especially to make sure they know the signs and symptoms of HPV and to get checked out regularly if they are sexually active.

Both Rotanasiripong and Bublitz emphasize the importance of Papanicolaou (Pap) testing, which is where they take a swab of the woman’s cervix to screen for cervical cancer. This can be done for the first time at age 21.

The World Health Organization (WHO) states that pre-cancer screening is for women who have no symptoms and feel perfectly healthy. If the screening shows a cancerous lesion, then it can be easily treated and cancer can be avoided altogether. Screening can also detect cancer at an early stage to determine what treatment to use, or to cure the cancer if possible.

Rotanasiripong states that getting a Pap smear can detect and treat high-grade precursors in order to reduce women’s risk in developing cervical cancer.

According to Bublitz, if your first Pap smear comes back normal, then you would be scheduled for your next one in three years. However, if it shows that you have HPV, then, depending on which strain of HPV it is, you would be scheduled for your next pap smear in a year.

Bublitz also gives advice on screening for other types of HPV. Women may not always need a Pap smear to see that they have HPV. According to Bublitz, most of the time it is a spot with a cauliflower appearance that is usually not tender.

There are a lot of risk factors to getting HPV, which include smoking, increased age, lack of condom use, immunodeficiency, and other STD’s, according to Rotanasiripong.

Bublitz states that if you are sick or fighting off any sort of disease you are at a high risk. For example, Diabetes.

According to the WHO, HPV is sexually transmitted, but penetrative sex is not required for transmission, and skin-to-skin genital contact is a well-organized mode of transmission.

Bublitz gives advice on how to completely avoid HPV. She says the best way to avoid HPV is abstinence. Even if the male wears a condom, he could have genital warts all over that area, and if any part of the female rubs on that area she can become infected. Therefore it is very important for women to know their sex partners and ask them if they have anything before engaging in sexual intercourse with them.

USC Upstate oftentimes gives away condoms on campus. Will gives advice to the students to just take some condoms just in case sex does happen.

When asked if she had more advice on avoiding HPV, Bublitz said, “If you’re big enough, grown enough, to have sex then you need to be big enough to stand up and ask your partner if they have anything.”

Many people believe that STDs can gradually grow after you have had so many sex partners, but that is not the case. You can get infected with any STD by having sex one time with the wrong person. It is important for women in college especially to have the confidence to stand up for their health and encourage their friends to do so, as well.