Students should worry about genital warts, experts say

by Jacob Kapsner

In the midst of National Condom Week, one sexually transmitted disease can elude even the most effective condom: genital warts.
Thought to be incurable, genital warts are one of the most-diagnosed STDs on campus. The disease has received national and international attention for its prevalence among college-aged women.
A 1995 Boynton Health Service Survey found that 5.1 percent of the student body has the disease, the second-most common STD.
Genital warts and chlamydia are the two most common STDs on campus, but chlamydia is curable with antibiotics, said Boynton Health Service’s Director of Community Health Dave Golden.
“Most people don’t realize how easily (genital warts are) transmitted,” Golden said.
College of Liberal Arts senior Kim Koster agreed that students are generally uninformed about the prevalence of the disease on campus.
“I didn’t know anything about it. I find it frightening,” said Koster, who doesn’t have warts.
Genital warts are caused by a group of more than 70 viruses called Human Papillomavirus. They are spread through vaginal, oral and anal contact.
According to a report issued Thursday by the National Institutes of Health, “the incidence of HPV infection in sexually active, young college women is alarming. Furthermore, we currently have no effective way to prevent infection,” said chief of sexually transmitted diseases NIH branch Penny Hitchcock.
Study Director Robert D. Burk in a press release said that “genital infection with HPV is one of the most common STDs, with its prevalence in young women ranging from 20 percent to 46 percent in different countries.”
The skin disease is characterized by soft, wart-like growth on the genitals, according to the American College Health Association. Warts can surface as a bump, remain flat, be single or numerous, and can cluster together into a cauliflower-like shape, says the association.
A carrier of genital warts doesn’t have to have a sore present to transmit the virus.
The fact that warts often go physically unrecognized poses additional danger to the disease’s carriers, especially among women.
Female genetalia is more biologically susceptible to STDs than male. Not only is this due to difficulty in visibility, but also because complications can be more severe, noted Boynton Health Educator Dave Dorman.
“HPV is an oncogenic virus which means it can lead to cervical cancer,” explained Marilyn Joseph, medical director of Boynton Health Service. This is much more common than cancer of the penis, she added.
Women with the disease also run the risk of transferring it in childbirth, and annual physicals are considered essential.
“Paps can show signs of the effects of HPV,” said Joseph.
Yet because of the elusive nature of this disease, a woman with a seemingly normal pap can still have traces of the virus, said Golden.
There are ways to decrease the disease’s particles, but Joseph said the virus is difficult to wipe out of a person’s system completely because these particles can lie dormant in the basement layer of epithelium tissue.
“Unfortunately, the epidemiology of it is unknown because you can’t grow this virus in a test tube,” said Joseph.
Boynton officials said while they endorse National Condom Week, condoms might not cover the entire exposed area of an infected carrier.
“We don’t have a lot of confidence with condom usage (for HPV),” Golden said. “All it takes is skin contact.”