The human papillomavirus (HPV) is currently the most widely spread sexually transmitted disease in the United States, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There are over one hundred different types of HPV known at this time, over forty of which can be sexually transmitted. Nearly all sexually active men and women are exposed at some point in their lives. Lifestyle choices such as risky sexual behavior, smoking and alcohol use increase one’s risk of contracting HPV. Additionally, infection with one type of HPV does not prevent infections with other types.
“Approximately 79 million Americans are currently infected with HPV. About 14 million people become newly infected each year.” (CDC, 2013).
“Human papillomaviruses are small, double-strained DNA viruses that infect the epithelium and cause common skin warts.” (CDC, 2012). Most HPV infections are asymptomatic and resolve on their own. About forty strains of HPV infect the mucosal epithelium, which can lead to cervical cancer. Cervical cancer was first thought to be linked to sexual activity in the 1960s, and in the early 1980s, in was proven that cervical cancer cells contained HPV DNA. The first publications of this were not until the 1990s. (CDC 2012). Because the detection of HPV was so recent, there are still many unknown factors regarding transmission and treatment.
Signs and Symptoms
It is estimated that 90% of people who contract HPV never develop symptoms, and within two years, the body’s immune system clears the virus. The human papillomavirus in it’s low-risk form can cause warts, but typically the signs of the high-risk types only occur at the cellular level and can not be seen by the naked eye for years or even decades. The cellular changes of the high-risk forms of HPV can lead to cancer when left undetected or untreated. (ACOG, 2010)
Current Treatment options - Prevention/screening
Currently there are two vaccines designed to help prevent HPV. Gardasil protects against HPV types 6, 11, 16, and 18. Gardasil is a three dose series given over six months. Cervarix protects again HPV types 16 and 18. It is also a series of three doses given over six months. These vaccines are approved to be administered to children as young as nine years of age up until age twenty-six. It is recommended that the HPV vaccine series be given to children between the ages of eleven and twelve, as this is typically prior to their first sexual exposure, and when their immune system will provide the most optimal immune response. “Fifteen different strains of HPV have been shown to cause cervical cancer, 70% of these cases are caused by types 16 and 18.” (James, 2011). Additionally, “Studies show that both vaccines are nearly 100% effective in protecting females who have not already been exposed to the types of HPV covered by the vaccine, meaning that vaccination before the onset of sexual activity most...