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We’re all familiar with them--those tiny little acronyms we use every day in our emails and text messages – BRB, OMG, and LOL. We understand the meaning behind what is condensed into these three small letters. However, there is a formidable adversary out there, one that affects 80 percent of the population and which, under the right circumstances, can kill you. That acronym is HPV.
HPV is short for human papillomavirus, a virus, as inherent in the name, which has over 100 different strains, some of which can kill you. Many people have been infected with varying other strains of HPV and don’t even realize it. Plantar warts on the feet, flat warts found on the body, warts on the fingers and hands that are so annoying; these are all caused by different strains, or types, of the human papillomavirus.
I would hope by now that most of you have heard that HPV causes cervical cancer. You may also be familiar with the vaccine developed to protect against certain strains of the virus which cause the majority (70 percent) of cervical cancers. The Gardasil vaccine was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2006 and Cervarix, a newer vaccine, was approved by the FDA last year. The Gardasil vaccine protects against four types of HPV: two low risk strains--6 and 11--which cause genital warts and the two high risk strains--16 and 18--which cause the majority of cancers. Cervarix only protects against the two high risk strains 16 and 18, and provides no protection for the lower risk types.
HPV is transmitted through skin-to-skin contact with an infected area. Although HPV is considered the number one sexually transmitted disease, intercourse is not a requirement for contracting the virus. In fact some believe that the virus can be transmitted via fomites, or inanimate objects which also have come in contact with an HPV infected area. Because there is no test to determine if a man is carrying HPV, a woman can remain celibate until marriage and contract the virus from her husband.
While an increased number of sexual partners is considered a risk factor, this is a very contagious virus and one which can be transferred on a single occasion.