If anyone watches the new HBO series GIRLS, yay for you! It’s a fabulous (and I mean that in the least glamorous way) show about four women in their early 20s trying to figure out what life poses for them in the 21st century. In a recent episode, Hannah, the main character, finds out she has HPV. When talking it over to her current partner, he says that he got tested for it and doesn’t have it. At this point, I am angry and screaming at my TV.
HPV, which stands for Human Papillomavirus, is a viral sexually transmitted disease. It is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States and 50% to 75% of sexually active people will get HPV at some point in their lives. There are about 100 strains, 30 of which can lead to genital warts or cervical cancer (Discovering Human Sexuality by Baldwin, Baldwin and LeVay). The rest aren’t sexually transmitted and will heal on their own. But some strains, such as the ones that lead to genital warts and cervical cancer cannot be cured. In fact, every viral STI is not curable; once you have it, it is with you for life.
Once infected with HPV, a person may not experience any symptoms. In fact, the most common symptom of all STI’s is no symptoms at all (Planned Parenthood). In the case of HPV types 6 and 11 (Discovering Human Sexuality by Baldwin, Baldwin, and LeVay), though, people may notice single, soft pink bumps or a cauliflower-like growth in a few months after infection. These lesions are not painful, but they are highly contagious; and definitely not a pretty sight (trust me, if you want to get scared, look at pictures of HPV infected people; it’s better than a horror flick)! These are genital warts.
HPV types 16 and 18 can cause different, precancerous lesions in the genital area (Discovering Human Sexuality by Baldwin, Baldwin, and LeVay). These are the types that can cause cervical cancer and cancer of the vulva in women and sometimes anal, throat, and mouth cancer in both women and men. So it really doesn’t matter what type of sexual intercourse (vaginal/anal/oral) someone is engaging in at the time of initial infection; HPV is nonselective. Other symptoms of HPV include itching, irritation, and bleeding (Planned Parenthood-Los Angeles).
Women can easily be tested for HPV. Simply by taking a pap smear, a gynecologist will be able to tell if there is some kind of abnormality (Discovering Human Sexuality by Baldwin, Baldwin, and LeVay). Men, on the other hand, cannot be tested (Planned Parenthood-Los Angeles). This is why I got so angry at my television. A male can be a carrier of HPV and not know it, simply because he cannot be tested and because he may not have any symptoms. People must not forget that the most common symptom of an STI is NO SYMPTOMS AT ALL. Yes, there are statistics on how many males have HPV, but those statistics are only taken by the males who have genital warts (Planned Parenthood-Los Angeles). No other strains can report statistics for males.
Luckily, there is now a vaccine for HPV: Gardasil. Gardasil is given in 3 doses: the 1st at around ages 11 or 12, the 2nd 2 months afterwards, and the 3rd 6 months after the initial shot. The vaccine protects against the 4 types of HPV said above (6, 11, 16, and 18) (Discovering Human Sexuality by Badlwin, Baldwin, LeVay). Treatment for genital warts can occur. Doctors can freeze the warts, cut them off, or apply podophyllin to remove them (Planned Parenthood-Los Angeles). But, like I said before, there is no cure for HPV. Only its symptoms can be treated.
By ARIELLE COLON