HPV: Are you at risk?

Research estimates that about 75 percent of college-aged people are likely to have HPV, said Patricia Livingston, a primary care clinician at the UVM Center for Health and Wellbeing. Genital HPV, which stands for human papillomavirus, is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the U.S., affecting about half of all sexually active women and men at some point in their lives. Sexually transmitted HPV exists in various strains that can be classified as either high or low-risk based on the possibility of a particular type ultimately leading to cervical cancer.HPV can be contracted through direct skin contact even with the use of a condom, according to the American Social Health Association. But because infection does not necessarily produce any noticeable symptoms and will eventually go away on its own, this virus is often undiagnosed, and has been proliferating on college campuses nationwide. “I had no idea what HPV was when I was told that I had it,” an anonymous UVM student said. “I was embarrassed and didn’t want to tell anyone. Then I started finding out that a lot of people I know have had experiences with it; it’s more common than you would think.” Though there is no treatment for HPV, the FDA recently licensed a vaccine, known as Gardisal, for females between 9 and 26 years old, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). New Hampshire will be the first state to provide the vaccine free for girls ages 11 to 18 beginning in January, according to the Associated Press. “We would love to see Vermont take the same kind of initiative,” said Jane Luria, a nurse practitioner at the UVM Women’s Health Center. The Women’s Health Center currently offers the vaccine for $154 per shot, which needs to be given three times within six months and is covered by many insurance agencies, Luria said. The vaccine prevents the four types of HPV that account for 70 percent of cervical cancer and 90 percent of warts, and protection lasts at least 5 years, according to the CDC.10 percent of women infected with HPV develop a persistent infection, which is associated with almost all cervical cancers, which the American Cancer Society estimated will affect over 9,700 women in 2006. It can also cause cancer in males, according to the CDC. So far, about 55 students have received the vaccine from the Women’s Health Center, Luria said. “Many students are still on their parent’s insurance, so there is an issue of confidentiality,” Luria said. “There’s a paper trail, and it’s a delicate issue.” Mandy Lewis, a junior at UVM, said that she didn’t know about HPV until she recently saw a commercial recommending the vaccine. “What about the guys? It’s the girls that have to buy the vaccine,” Lewis said. The vaccine is available for males, but the efficacy of it is still being tested, according to the CDC.