HPV Alert! Stop! Breathe.

Recently people have been alerted to new facts about the Human Papilloma Virus, known as HPV, a sexually transmitted virus known to cause cervical cancer in women and other cancers, predominately in women but also in men. HPV really represents a cluster of over 100 viruses, most of which are not cancer causing. But now we know HPV can cause heart disease in women, also, and that both men and women are facing HPV strains that cause oral cancer (mouth, throat, tongue, tonsils). More information can be accessed at websites such as the Center for Disease Control, the National Cancer Institute, and the UK-based Mouth Cancer Foundation.

Increasingly, pre-sexual girls are accessing one of the proven preventative inoculations, such as Gardasil, parents protecting their children much like they would from from measles and mumps. There is now a new urgency for all pre-sexual adolescents, not just girls anymore but all boys as well, to get the anti-cancer vaccine.

Much like the onset of the AIDS epidemic, HPV seemed to arrive on our doorstep, incognito and caused by behaviors people enjoy, even crave.

The  era of AIDS started with people losing their lives thinking they were bewitched, the etiology hidden, and its spread seemingly chaotic. Eventually researchers drilled down adequately to identify the risks involved in certain behaviors: engaging in unprotected sex with an infected partner, sharing intravenous needles with an infected partner, or receiving a transfusion of infected blood. Researchers are desperately seeking a vaccine and recently have made encouraging progress toward that goal.

HPV infects the epithelial cells of skin and mucosa, such as the vagina, penis, and anus, and now its transmission orally has been proven indisputably. We are at the stage now where researchers are identifying risky behaviors, and a public health campaign has begun to ensure every pre-sexual boy and girl has access to preventive vaccination. Everyone who engages in oral sex, gay and straight, must consider oral sex a potential danger zone, and we have to learn to protect ourselves and others, again.

All I am saying is this cancer causing virus shouldn’t take us by surprise like HIV did. Let us be vigilant, and do our part to make sure pre-sexual girls/women and boys/men receive their life-saving HPV inoculations. Let’s talk about it wherever we are. Thank heaven, we now have advanced research and technology. We will survive.