What You Don’t Know…Can Hurt You

Libby Hill

Libby Hill

Behind the desk of Registered Nurse Amy Hockett is a shelving unit completely covered with stacks of patient files.

“Those,” she says with a wave of her hand “are the abnormal Pap smear results. I need to call all those women and explain to them what to expect next.”

What happens next?

These women are informed about the human papillomavirus(es), better known as HPV.

They are told that in order to know more, the clinic will conduct further tests in order “type” the strain of HPV that they, in particular, have.

There’s more than one type of the human papillomavirus: there are over one hundred.

The most familiar strain of HPV-commonly called genital warts- is a condition in which soft, moist, pink or red swellings appear in the area of the genitalia.

While this would seem like an obvious way to identify infected individuals, it is actually one of the few strains that have visual indicators.

Every other strain is virtually undetectable.

In fact, at this time there is no way to test men for HPV. Meaning that there is no way for men to know whether or not they are carrying and transmitting the human papillomavirus.

By extension, this means no way for the women they’re sleeping with to know, either.

There is no cure for HPV. Once you get it, you have it for life.

Then you face the possibility of transmitting it to every person you sleep with from that point on.

As if that prospect were not chilling enough, 10 different strains of HPV can lead to the development of cervical cancer.

“Well”, you may think, being the socially conscious, sexually aware youth that you are, “I’ll never have to worry about that, because when I have sex I use condoms. Condoms stop all those silly STD’s.”

While condoms often do reduce the risk of contracting a sexually transmitted disease, that is not the case for HPV.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, abstinence is the most effective strategy to prevent HPV infection.

Since both transmission and detection are so insidious, and condoms so frighteningly futile, college students are putting themselves at risk for infection every time they have sex.

The disease turns a blind eye to how many sexual partners you’ve had, as nurse practitioner Julie Cameron reports,

“It doesn’t matter if the women have had 1 partner or 10 … you can still get it.”

So what can you do? Besides abstinence and not having sex with people who obviously have genital warts, you can be aware.

Know that condoms aren’t a fail-safe and that every time you have sex you leave yourself open to infection.

In addition, smokers are placed at a higher risk for infection, as smoking weakens the immune system, thus leaving you more exposed to disease.

Also, sexually active women need to have a regular Pap smear in order to screen for cervical cancer and other precancerous conditions.