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February 27, 2007

HPV Infects One Quarter of US Women

Sexual restraint isn't going to protect you when 25% of the population carries a bug. It only takes one time. Or one marriage, for that matter.

More than a quarter of U.S. girls and women ages 14 to 59 are infected with the sexually transmitted human wart virus, which causes most cases of cervical cancer, U.S. health officials estimated on Tuesday.

That means human papillomavirus or HPV infection is more common than previously thought, particularly among younger age groups, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention researchers said. Its prevalence was highest among those 20 to 24, with 44.8 percent infected, and nearly a quarter of teenagers aged 14 to 19.

Using data from a nationally representative group of 1,921 girls and women ages 14 to 49 who provided vaginal swabs in 2003 and 2004, researchers led by the CDC's Dr. Eileen Dunne found that 26.8 percent were infected with any type of this virus.


HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States. High-risk HPV types can cause cervical, anal, penile and other genital cancers.


HPV infects about half of sexually active adults at some time, but usually is harmless. About 90 percent of infections clear within two years.

But the virus can cause abnormal cells in the cervix lining that can turn cancerous. Cancer of the cervix kills about 300,000 women worldwide annually, including about 4,000 in the United States.

Penile cancers too. Terrific. Since I fear vaginas, the cervical cancer stuff of course bothers me little (the enemy of my enemy is my friend), but now we're talking about my junk.

"Behavior has consequences," some say. So it does. But shouldn't the behavior of the US medical/pharmacological establishment -- working diligently to mostly eliminate a cancer caused by a common virus -- have consequences, too?

If God granted humans dominion over the animals, for us to hunt and eat, wouldn't He also be in favor of hunting down potentially lethal diseases?

Not to engage in cheap shots, but allow me one. It's not meant as a cheap shot, really. Just an analogy.

Why is it that some chuckle over the idea of reducing human happiness to save the snail darter, but there's a gut-level reluctance out there to wipe out a murderous virus?

I know the argument usually isn't put in that way, that is, affirmatively protecting the natural wetlands habitat of the human papillloma virus, but rather in terms of personal choice and parental authority.

Still, I guess I'm still not sure what the real "choice" is here -- choosing between eliminating a cancer risk, or choosing to keep that risk alive? Is that really a choice?

I just don't see the easy way out here. One can't say that simply abstaining until marriage will protect one from the risks of HPV (as well as the risks, if any, from the vaccine), given that a quarter of the population carries the virus. The only real non-medical protection isn't sexual restraint, but nearly absolute celibacy -- with testing prior to marriage to determine if either party's been infected, and, I suppose, calling off the marriage if turns out, as is likely, that one party's infected. And then back to the dating circuit hoping for a non-infected lifemate.

It Ain't HIV: I think some people don't accept these figures because they're analogizing it to HIV. HIV only infects a small fraction of the population; HIV is a sexually transmitted virus; as HPV is also a sexually transmitted virus, ergo it also must only infect a tiny fraction of the population.

That assumes that a virus is fairly difficult to spread -- as HIV is -- simply because it's chiefly transmitted through sex. Not necessarily so. A lot of viruses are extremely easy to catch -- anyone doubt they've been exposed to countless viruses in the past?

HIV isn't the "rule." It's an exception. We got, comparatively, lucky on that one -- it's lethal but, thankfully, also rather difficult to transmit. It was also, at least in its breakout period, self-limiting to a degree because it was so lethal -- it incapacitated its hosts with sickness, and then killed them, too quickly for it to spread further.

People shouldn't assume that all viruses are similarly courteous enough to be difficult to spread if they're potentially deadly.

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posted by Ace at 08:39 PM

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