HPV: Lose the Stigma

25 May


A few days ago I was speaking with a friend about the stigma attached to HPV, or human papilloma virus.  Then just a couple of days ago my company got to work on a campaign for a new cervical cancer vaccine, and the chuckles and smirks of some colleagues regarding the whole issue underscored what my friend and I were talking about.  Let’s undo some of the stigma around HPV and cervical cancer here. From the CDC:

l Most sexually active people will get HPV at some time in their lives, though most will never know it because HPV usually has no signs or symptoms.

l There are about 40 types of genital HPV. In most cases, HPV goes away within two years, without causing any health problems. It is thought that the immune system fights off HPV infection naturally.

The common nature of HPV should not belie the fact that it is something to be concerned about.  When women do not get regular screenings that could catch abnormal cell growth in the cervix, the virus could lead to further cell abnormalities, and cervical cancer.  Nevertheless, the two points above should also underscore how common HPV is. Unless you are a virgin, there is a strong chance that you will contract it, or have already. And if you do get it, because there are so many strains, you may get one of the milder strains that your body will clear on its own in two years.  But because there are high-risk strains of HPV that lead to cervical cancer, these vaccines are wonderful news.

Glaxo Smith Kline has developed Cervarix, and Merck was first on the market with Gardasil.  Getting these vaccines will greatly reduce the chances that a young girl will contract a high-risk strain of HPV when she is older.  But reread the two stats above from the Centers for Disease Control.  Stigmatizing HPV would be like stigmatizing spring allergies or sunburns- if you haven’t had these common ailments, chances are you know someone who has. Just like the human papilloma virus.

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