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The human papillomavirus or HPV affects over 20 million Americans between the ages of 15 and 49 and it is predicted that about 6. 2 million Americans,  including those in the older age groups, will be affected each year. With such high rates of infections, I think it is important to point out a few important facts about this virus. HPV can be transmitted  during sexual activity or sexual intercourse with a person infected with the virus. This virus can be present in an individual as early as weeks after sexual intercourse or as late as years after. It is therefore important to be protected during sexual activity  and decrease the risk of becoming infected with HPV by not having sex with multiple partners. To ensure that the virus is not  transmitted at all–practice abstinence.

The use of  latex condoms can reduce the risk of transmission, however there is no absolute safe sex with the use of a condom with regard to HPV. Any area not covered by the condom can  transmit  the human papillomavirus. HPV can cause cerivcal cancer as well as genital warts. There are about 100 strains or types of the human papillomavirus and over 30 of these strains can cause cancer. The most common cancer caused by HPV is cervical cancer and the strains known to cause about 70% of all cervical cancers are strains 16 and 18. Strains 6 and 11 of the HPV cause about 90% of all genital warts. When a women gets her PAP test done, she can also be tested for HPV.

If she is infected with the virus  the strains are identified and given a classification of either high-risk or low-risk. The strains of the virus classified as high-risk can cause cancer and the ones classified as low-risk can cause genital warts. At the time this article is written, there is no FDA-approved HPV testing  for men. HPV can resolve on its own. Most individuals  infected with the human papillomavirus do not have symptoms. In about a year after being infected with HPV,  about 70% of women will clear the virus and in about 2 years, approximately 91% of  the women infected will be virus-free. Recent studies have shown that there is a rise in oropharngeal cancers among individuals less than 50 years old who do not have a history of smoking or alcohol use.

This rise is due to a change in sexual practices over the past 20 years where oral sex is now very common. This sexual practice, especially in the younger population, is more common in today’s society because they believe it is safer, isn’t really “sex” and it is a sure way not to get pregnant. Unfortunately, this is a sure way to contract numerous STDs, including HPV,  in the oral cavity. Ear, Nose, and Throat physicians, ENTs, believe that this current rise in oral sex has contributed to the  HPV-related throat cancers they  now see in their younger patients. Tongue cancer as well as esophageal cancers caused by the HPV virus are also on the  rise. Gardasil has been proven to be 95-100% effective against certain strains of HPV In 2006,  Gardasil, the vaccine developed to prevent infections with certain strains of HPV, was made available to the public. Studies have shown it to be 95-100% effective in preventing  infections with HPV types 6, 11, 16 and 18.

These strains are known to cause  genital warts and cervical cancer respectively. Further studies have shown that Gardasil is 38% effective against ten other types of the human papillomavirus. The CDC recommends Gardasil for females 11-26 years old. The vaccine can be given to girls as young as 9 years old and has been found to be less effective in women who are already infected with the human papillomavirus. The vaccine  includes three  shots  given over the course of six months. After the first shot is given, a second shot is given two months later. A third shot is needed 6 months after the first shot.

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