The Human Papillomavirus is as contagious as a common cold, and it is estimated that 20 million Americans are affected by this sexually transmitted disease.
The disease targets both men and women, and most people are unaware of the disease or its effects.
HPV can cause genital warts within the female genital area or on the penis.
However the warts are not always visible.
For that reason, people are more at risk of transmitting the disease without knowing it.
Florida A&M University Student Health Services reported one diagnosed case in 2005, but Jennifer Harrison-Hauer, the FAMU health educator for SHS, said the one diagnosis does not necessarily reflect all cases.
“Students may have undiagnosed cases or were diagnosed at another location. However, this doesn’t imply that HPV is not an issue on campus. Again, HPV infection doesn’t always display symptoms,” Harrison-Hauer said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are more than six million new cases of HPV diagnosed in the U.S. each year, and 74 percent of them are between the ages of 15 to 24.
People who choose to have sex are estimated to get HPV within two to three years of being sexually active.
However, people do not have to engage in intercourse in order to contract the disease because HPV spreads simply through genital contact.
There are more than 100 types of HPV. A woman who is diagnosed can be in danger of getting cervical cancer through what experts title “high-risk” HPV, according to www.hpv.com.
The cells within the cervix can be affected by the virus and become cancerous. Pre-cancerous cells can be detected as early as one year.
Harrison-Hauer recommends women get checked often for the virus through pap smears.
“Often times, women have an abnormal pap smear. Most women are diagnosed with HPV due to an abnormal Pap test,” Harrison-Hauer said.
If a woman is diagnosed with “low risk” HPV, the virus will cause genital warts.
The warts will most likely clear up on its own and remain undetectable, according to www.hpv.com.
Recently, there has been a medical breakthrough, and women no longer have to risk the chance of waiting for the virus to disappear.
In June 2006, the Food and Drug Administration approved a vaccine for girls and women to take in order to prevent cervical cancer HPV.
Several researchers at the Miriam Hospital in Providence, R.I. and Brown Medical School stated in a July 2006 article that black women should be the first to get vaccinated because black women are more vulnerable to HPV.
“Although the reason for the disparity of HPV in African-American women is not well understood – simply knowing that this group is disproportionately affected should lead to targeted vaccination efforts that administer the safe, effective, three-dose prevention tool to them,” said Loida E. Bonney, a researcher at The Miriam Hospital.
Experts are not only trying to target the vaccine to black women.
“HPV is real common among high school and college students. That’s why they made the vaccine to start treating girls at 12 years old,” said Shelia Morris, an employee at the Leon County Health Department.
According to an article on www.cnn.com, the Michigan legislation would like to take the vaccination option a step further.
The legislation is currently voting to pass a law that would require girls to get an HPV vaccine before entering school.
In the article, Susan Crosby, the president of an organization representing female lawmakers, commented that all states should look into exercising the law as well.
“Every state needs to look at this,” said Crosby. “It’s one of the first cancers we can look at truly eradicating.”
Harrison-Hauer warned that all people who are sexually active are at risk of contracting HPV. Screening is highly recommended, she said.
SHS offers STD screenings by appointment.
She also said the LCHD Bond Community Health Center offers STD screening among other services.
“Primary prevention is the key. SHS provides free condoms; simply stop by the clinic,” Harrison-Hauer said.