Human Papillomavirus

A Vaccine Preventable Illness

Human Papillomavirus


Human Papillomavirus is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the United states. HPV is the cause of nearly all cervical cancer diagnoses. Epidemiologic studies in the 1960's tied the long suspected relationship between cervical cancer and sexual activity (Pinkbook, 2015). Since the 1980's studies have shown cervical cancer cells to contain HPV DNA, identifying HPV infection to be a primary cause of cervical cancer in women. In 2006, the first vaccine to protect against various HPV types was license. Today, two vaccines are available and highly encouraged for boys and girls as young as 9 years old.


HPV is a group of more than 100 viruses, each named by number and virus type. HPV is transmitted through skin-to-skin contact with an infected region of the body, primarily the genitals (CDC, 2015). It is also spread via mucous membranes and bodily fluids. Individuals engaging in vaginal, anal, and oral intercourse are at risk for contracting HPV.


There are two main types of HPV. One is responsible for causing warts usually on the ulva, cervix, penis, scrotum, rectum or thigh area. Some warts may also be found in the mouth and throat regions. Warts appear to be red, flat and cauliflower shaped. The second type of HPV can cause cancer and if often considered a "silent infection". Because there are no apparent signs or symptoms for this type most individuals are unaware they are infected. The main concern for cancer causing HPV is cervical cancer in women.


HPV types that cause genital warts are considered low-risk. Genital warts are not life threatening and rarely present medical concerns. Individuals infected with low-risk HPV can seek treatment for warts and lesions if they do not disappear on their own.High-risk HPV types are those that cause cancer. Nearly all cervical cancers are caused by HPV infection (McGill, 2015). HPV can also lead to cancer of the anus, penis, vagina and vulva. Fortunately, most infections do not cause cancer and with time will go away on their own. The risk of cancer- causing infection is lowest among males, with very few cases of penis related cancers diagnosed.

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Health Issues and Severity of Infection


HVP is a highly contractible disease. Currently, 79 million Americans are infected with HPV and roughly 14 million become newly infected each year (CDC, 2015). The disease is so common, almost all men and women will be infected with HPV at one point in their life. Risk of infection is highest among males and females in their late 20's that engage in sexual activity. Studies have found that more than 50 percent of adults in new sexual relationships were infected with Human Papillomavirus (McGill, 2015). Although HPV prevalence is high among young adults, the majority of those who contract the disease can expect to have it for no more than one to two years. Typically, the body is capable of fighting the infection on its own. Risk lies in the small percentage of individuals whose infection persists and may cause cancer.


HVP is a vaccine preventable disease, meaning it is an infectious disease for which an effective vaccine exists. Individuals can significantly lower their risk of infection by becoming vaccinated against HPV. Currently, two vaccines exist for Human Papilloma Virus: Gardasil and Cervarix. Women between the ages of 9 and 45 and men between the ages of 9 and 26 can be vaccinated with the Gardasil shots. Cervarix is a second vaccine currently available for women between 10 and 25 to help protect against infection by cancer-causing HPV types (McGill, 2015). HPV vaccines come in three shots over a six-month span and it is important that all three shots be received. Vaccines are safe and effective but they are not the only form of protection. Other control measures include screening for women. Pap tests are encouraged for women beginning at age 21 and each year after that. The purpose of this test is early detection of abnormal cell growth caused by cervical cancer. All individuals engaging in sexual activity can lower their risk of infection by using latex condoms during intercourse and having few sexual partners.

Many individuals will become infected with HPV in their lifetime. The severity of the disease is low compared to many other infectious diseases. However, there is still the possibility that some cases of HPV can eventually turn serious. Cancer, although rare, is the main concern for individuals who contract HPV. Roughly 8 billion dollars are spent each year on HPV management. Aside from HIV, human papillomavirus exceeds the economic burden of any other sexually transmitted disease (Pinkbook, 2015). For these reasons, I believe all men and women should be required to receive the vaccine. There is no test to determine a person's HPV status and because signs often do not develop in infected individuals, transmission is incredibly high. Most individuals infected are unaware and go on to infect their partners. It is only when warts appear or more serious conditions arise that people find out they have HPV. Vaccines are safe and effective and can prevent against future outbreaks. Girls and women are capable of receiving free vaccination up until 18 years of age. Vaccines should be received along with regular screening and safe sex practices to ensure the highest form of protection.