The Human Papillomavirus Virus (HPV)

The human papillomavirus (HPV) is a sexually transmitted virus. It can be transmitted via vaginal, anal or oral sex. There are several types of HPV viruses.

HPV virus infection causes no symptoms, so those infected with the virus may be unaware they are infected. Up to 80% of those sexually active become infected with the virus, even those with few partners. Most cases clear spontaneously, but those that do not pose a cancer risk.

The human papillomavirus is known for its association with cervical cancer, but HPV infection also increases risk for cancers of the vagina, anus, penis, mouth and oral cavity. HPV viral infection is also responsible for venereal warts.

There is now a vaccination that offers protection against the HPV virus. While it does not offer protection against all strains of the HPV virus, it protects against HPV strains responsible for 70% of cases of cervical cancer and 90% of the HPV viruses that cause genital warts. The vaccine does not protect against all strains of the HPV virus, so those who receive the vaccine still need to have routine PAP smears. The vaccine does not hasten clearance of HPV infection once one is infected.

There are some issues remaining to be resolved in regards to the vaccine. The vaccination is currently rather expensive, approximately $360 for the series of three vaccines over a 6 month period. Right now, The FDA has approved the vaccine, Gardasil, for girls and women aged 9-26. It is best given to women before they become sexually active. Ongoing long term studies are in progress to learn how long the vaccine is effective. Research is also ongoing as to whether the vaccine is also effective in boys and men, who can acquire and transmit the virus, and who if infected may be at risk for anal and penile cancers.

Future advances hope to make the vaccine more affordable. It is also hoped that in the future the vaccine will require only a single administration instead of the series of three vaccinations over several months now required.