General Awareness and Knowledge of HPV: Do You Know the Facts?
Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is a virus that can have serious implications on the long-term health of both men and women. However, most people know very little about the dangers, symptoms, and means of transmission for this potentially dangerous illness. Until recently, it was not uncommon for patients to learn of the existence of HPV when a doctor shared the results of a positive exam. Essentially, people weren’t even aware of a risk until after they were infected. The reason for this lack of knowledge is simple. HPV wasn’t considered dangerous. In most cases, it resolves without any treatment and minimal symptoms. However, if complications arise, there can be significant dangers.
General Awareness of HPV
Today, young adults and parents are generally educated about the existence and potential dangers of HPV. Commercials on TV vaguely outline potential risks and target parents with pictures of young teenagers asking for vaccination. The virus is likely mentioned to middle-schoolers in a long list of frightening illnesses during one of those embarrassing classes they are trying to forget. Rushed pediatricians push the benefits of vaccination to parents that often have never encountered HPV, or heard of anyone who has. The result is a culture of misinformation and confusion leaving patients with more questions than answers.
What You Probably Know (Or Think You Know)
If you are an adult that regularly visits your doctor or takes a child to his/her pediatrician, you probably know some information about HPV. Studies indicate that more than 70% of adults know these facts. HPV is a virus that:
- Is sexually transmitted
- Can lead to cervical cancer in women
- Has an existing vaccine
Unfortunately, these are not all the facts. Even worse, this small amount of information works to provide many people with a false sense of security. Education is undoubtedly the best ally in the prevention of the spread of HPV.
What You Should Know
Everyone has the potential to be impacted. Common misconceptions lead people to believe HPV is a women’s issue and something parents can put off until young adult children become sexually active. While it’s true that only women can get cervical cancer and HPV is sexually transmitted, most people don’t realize serious dangers exist for men, and the vaccine is only effective for a small window of time.
The human papillomavirus is a virus that both men and women can get at any time. HPV is incredibly common, with an estimated 79 million people infected and 14 million new cases occurring each year. Indeed, it can infect anyone who has had a sexual encounter. However, it is spread through skin to skin contact instead of the exchange of bodily fluids.
It is common for HPV to exist with little or no symptoms, elevating the risk that the virus will be spread to multiple partners with no awareness. HPV can cause genital warts in both men and women. These warts may not always be visible, though the virus can still be transmitted when they are absent. HPV can pose risks for different cancers in both men and women, with 30% of oral cancers linked.
How HPV is Transmitted
It is most commonly transmitted through sexual contact. It is well-known that women can remain asymptomatic for years after becoming infected and that the infection is spread through intimate skin contact. However, studies have concluded that women can become infected through the use of medical equipment.
Vaginal speculums are a common medical tool used during any type of pelvic exam. These tools are sterilized after each use and used on multiple patients. A 2014 study found certain strains of HPV to be resistant to common hospital disinfectants, highlighting the dangers of medical cross-contamination. HPV 16 specifically showed resistance to the sterilization techniques used on medical equipment. Today, single-use options designed for disposal after use on a single patient are available to completely eliminate the risk of cross-contamination from medical care.
Most adults know that complications can lead to cervical cancer in women. It’s important to understand that isn’t the only cancer risk. It is estimated that 99% of cervical cancers are caused by HPV. Additionally, the virus has been linked to cancers of the:
As you likely know, vaccination is the best prevention for HPV. However, for the vaccination to truly eliminate the dangers of HPV, both girls and boys must be vaccinated in the short time span that the vaccination is effective. The HPV vaccination is a series of shots recommended for both boys and girls ages 11-12 to prevent cancers (of the cervix, anal, vulva, penis, vagina, and throat) that have been linked to HPV. It is a series of 2 shots given 6 to 12 months apart that should be completed before a child is 13. The vaccination should be finished before the child’s first sexual encounter.
To avoid medical cross-contamination of HPV, some medical practices work with single-use vaginal speculums when testing for HPV. These disposable tools ensure zero chance of medical contamination since they are designed to be thrown away after one use. As a patient, you should put your own safety first by asking your provider about using single-use speculums.
The use of latex condoms can help reduce exposure. Limiting sexual partners also naturally reduces risks. It is important to note that neither of these methods is completely fool-proof as infection can exist in areas not covered by a condom and symptoms aren’t always present.
Learn More About HPV
Spreading knowledge is the only true way to provide a way to eradicate all of the dangers. The right tools can assist in preventing the spread as well. The ER-SPEC disposable vaginal speculum from obp works to ensure that medical cross-contamination of HPV is eliminated. This single-use tool comes in various sizes and has its own battery operated light source. Free samples are available for practices who are interested in preventing the spread of HPV.