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HPV; worse than HIV!
If you’re reading this, there is an 80% possibility that you may have already contracted or will contract the deadly Human Papilloma Virus, which is the root cause for many fatal cancers in both sexes. Spreading awareness should be the top priority in the HPV saga!

In the mainstream medical fraternity, HIV (the virus that causes AIDS) is widely considered as the most threatening among all Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs); as a consequence, there’s little dramatics given to the alarming rise in incidence of the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), which can match the former in scale, intensity and fatality.

Gabrielle Doewney, a consultant gynecologist at BMI, the Priory Hospital in US, opined, “Around 30% of the female population is HPV positive at any one time, and 80% of all women will contract strains 16 or 18 (the ones that can/lead to cervical cancer) at some point over their sexual life.” In 90% of the cases, the immune system fights off the fatal strains of the virus naturally and normalises its effect in around two years. However, in cases when the immune system fails to clear the virus naturally – mostly due to continued exposure to HPV – the same can then lead to diseases like genital warts and more alarmingly, cervical and some other types of cancer.

A general estimate is that a woman can be infected seven times in her lifetime starting from the year after she starts to have sex. Prof. Sean Kehoe, gynecological cancer specialist for UK Charity Well being of Women, has stated that HPV infects men as well and “[the infection rate] is more than likely equivalent between the genders.” There are over 100 subtypes of HPV, but the ones that are causes for concern are subtypes 6 and 11 that cause genital lumps and 16 and 18 that cause cervical cancer in women and many other types of cancer in both sexes.

Unlike HIV or Syphilis, HPV can be contracted even with the use of condoms as it spreads through any form of genital skin-to-skin contact! Even though it has not yet been accorded epidemic stature, certain estimates say that around 288,000 women are likely to die because of the disease by this year end. As per Center for Disease Control and Prevention figures, around 20 million people in America carry this virus (2005 figures) with another 6 million people getting infected each year. The incubation period for HPV ranges from a few weeks to a full year. What is even more ominous is that the strains of HPV that cause cancer do not get detected early, as the symptoms are not visible until advanced stages. Worse, there is no general test for men or women to check their ‘HPV status’. This fact makes HPV even deadlier than perceived.

According to the American Society for Colposcopy and Cervical Pathology, more than 5,000 women in US die due to HPV infection every year. Further, HPV is the cause for not just almost all kinds of cervical cancers, but also an overwhelming majority (80%) of vaginal cancers and anal cancers. And that’s not all. Dr. Nigel Carter from the British Dental Health Foundation opines that HPV will cause more oral cancer deaths than smoking in the next decade!

A vaccine has been developed for girls and medical practitioners are extensively advising boys to also take the shot too, as one of the main reasons women contract HPV is because men living with HPV have no qualms in having unprotected sex.
Irrespective, apart from making HPV vaccination mandatory, governments globally should accord HPV affliction a status similar to HIV affliction. People living with HPV, especially those with the fatal strains, should be legally bound to reveal their HPV status to their sexual partners. In other words, an HPV infected individual’s act of having sexual relations without revealing his or her affliction should be considered a criminal act, similar to how the law treats an HIV infected individual’s sexual proclivities. More importantly, education to both men and women about how the infection can be prevented should be made mandatory at various education levels. Extrapolating the issue, health as a subject should be included as an essential part of school curriculum globally.

Many years ago, thousands used to die of rabies every year in the US. Now, the figures are down to a negligible handful. Polio now infects almost none in a country like India, once the most polio afflicted nation. So there’s no reason why the world cannot eradicate HPV too.

By:- Sayan Ghosh

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