Extra, extra: You’ve got HPV

Ok, the headline is a bit sensational. But HPV is still everywhere and, if you’re sexually active, you’re probably going to get it.

I know how it is. A few drinks in, you see an attractive person in the room; if youâÄôre lucky, youâÄôll sneak a sly moment of eye contact. Your inebriation gives you the courage to go and speak with her. Her inebriation makes you more welcoming. All night you play a wonderful little self-disclosure game; the goal of this game is rub up against each other. You win this game if, before the night end, youâÄôre both naked. ItâÄôs a fun game; IâÄôve played it. But after learning what I have over the last week, IâÄôm officially retiring from the one-night-stand game. Human Pamillomavirus is everywhere. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that 50 percent of the sexually active population has the virus at any given time. Do the math and that means if you have unprotected sex with two different people, thereâÄôs a strong chance youâÄôve been infected with the virus. Other websites suggest that HPV is even more common; HPV.com reveals these alarming statistics: Sixty percent of female college students will become infected during their 4 years in college; furthermore, eight in 10 women will contract the virus at some point in their lives. I probably just sent a chill up the spine of many of you. If youâÄôre like me, youâÄôre wondering about that one time when the condom broke, and absolutely dreading that other time, when you didnâÄôt even bother to use one. (Gulp!) WhatâÄôs worse, itâÄôs not really a matter of using protection because condoms do not necessarily ensure shelter from the virus, and mere genital-to-genital contact is all it takes to be infected. So if youâÄôre sexually active, even in a safe way, youâÄôre right to be scared right now. The CDC explains: âÄúHPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection. The virus infects the skin and mucous membranes. There are more than 40 HPV types that can infect the genital areas of men and women, including the skin of the penis, vulva (area outside the vagina) and anus, and the linings of the vagina, cervix and rectum. You cannot see HPV. Most people who become infected with HPV do not even know they have it.âÄù HPV is also a pleasant way to describe genital warts, as many of the 40 differing types of HPV (though a majority do not) have the consequences of âÄúsmall bumps or groups of bumpsâÄù otherwise known as warts. Now IâÄôm thinking about some of my buddies who still foolishly and persistently play the above-mentioned game, throwing caution to the wind because âÄúcondoms suck.âÄù (For the record, condoms will reduce the likelihood of contracting the virus). These friends are a large part of this problem. Now IâÄôm thinking about places like BlarneyâÄôs in Dinkytown, or what I recently described to my friends as: The most shallow, and likely disease-infected pond you could ever go fishing in. To all the reckless (probably nervous) dudes out there, there is some good news. HPV most likely will never reveal itself by way of warts on your pecker; most strands are invisible and benign, though some rare cases can result in penile cancer. More good news, if you have a healthy immune system, your body should dispel the virus eventually, though it can remain dormant for more than a decade. I can almost hear all the men out there letting a deep sigh of relief. If it doesnâÄôt affect you and the virus will go away on its own, itâÄôs no problem, right? Wrong. If youâÄôre out there wantonly spreading HPV, you could be sentencing your poor female partner to death. HPV can cause cervical cancer in women; not all types are deadly, but some HPV types can be fatal. For example HPV types 16 and 18 are the cause of approximately 70 percent of all cervical cancer cases. So to all those reckless, rubber-hating dudes: Take a moment to understand that your penis could potentially be an instrument of death. (I hope that you would act accordingly.) But before all you dudes go running off to the clinic to get tested, youâÄôll be saddened to know that without visible warts, HPV cannot be reliably detected. Women can discern an HPV by way of a Pap test, and a new vaccine can now protect females from the four types of HPV that cause most cervical cancers and genital warts. The facts are out there, but it seems the majority is still unaware of the prevalence of this virus. Fortunately, abstinence and sexual education programs have had some success reducing the number of sexually active high school students, achieving a more than 13 percent decrease in sexually active teenagers since 1999. Maybe with more effort and education, thereâÄôs hope that future generations can contain this virus. But other, more discouraging statistics remain: A recent poll found 40 percent of older adolescents still incorrectly believe that the contraceptive âÄúpillâÄù or âÄúshotâÄù will protect against STIs. This type of ignorance is troubling, and it does not bode well for the future of the collective American genitalia. Maybe with the efforts of CDC and others we can reduce this HPV eruption? Then again, considering the widespread ignorance, maybe HPV is now just an irrevocable fact of life? As it applies to the current student body, I wonder. Is HPV even an STI anymore, or is it just something most everyone now has? Take a look around the room; chances are the majority of the people surrounding you have been infected. Given current numbers, and a collegiate body eager to rub up against each other, maybe we have just devolved into a people with warts on our genitals, or at least the virus. Ross Anderson welcomes comments at [email protected]