Do you have HPV?

Shaina Smith and Shaina Smith

Young men and women in their late teens and early twenties are among the most common people to contract the human papillomavirus, and those who choose not to be vaccinated can be putting themselves at serious risk of infection.

The human papillomavirus (or HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection that affects the genital areas of males and females. An untreated HPV infection can lead to cervical cancer in females and genital warts.

“Men and women should be getting vaccinated for HPV because of the risk of cervical cancer. It’s important for students to get vaccinated,” said Barbara Hoffman, medical services associate director at the University.

The Gardasil vaccination, which is available at the Student Health Center, helps protect against HPV-16 and HPV-18, which account for 70 percent of cervical cancer cases, and HPV-6 and HPV-11, account for 90 percent of genital wart cases worldwide.

“It’s important for students to know we do have the vaccine here,” Hoffman said. “It is expensive, so it’s important for students to check with their insurance to see if the insurance will cover the vaccine.”

The shot is administered in three doses over a six-month period. Each dose costs $125, so the full vaccine without insurance costs $375.

“The company that provides the vaccine does help to provide some financial assistance when [students] need it, so cost doesn’t have to be a deterrent when the company will help you pay for the vaccine,” Hoffman said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (cdc.gov), HPV usually goes away on its own within two years. For some, HPV is fought off naturally by the immune system. However, there is no way of telling which bodies will naturally get rid of the infection and which will develop health problems.

Some students said they don’t feel the vaccination is necessary because it doesn’t protect against all the strands of HPV, but Hoffman said it is still important.

“It reduces the exposure of genital warts and cervical cancer, so my question back to them would be, ‘Why don’t you feel you need the vaccine when it can be so helpful?'” Hoffman said.

Some students who are not sexually active don’t see the vaccination as something they need to get right now.

“I have no interest in being vaccinated,” said sophomore Elizabeth Brooker. “In my opinion it is meant for people who are sexually active, and I will not be until I’m married.”

Despite some of the skepticism, several female students are already vaccinated against HPV.

“I was vaccinated my freshman year,” said senior Ashley Hannah. “My doctor made it seem like it was becoming a routine standard. It doesn’t protect against everything, but it does protect against the strands that cause cancer … I figured why not, if it protects me?”

Junior Andreya Evans had similar reasons for getting vaccinated right before beginning her freshman year as a precaution.

“I decided it was a good idea because I didn’t know what would come in the new chapter in my life,” Evans said.

Men are now being encouraged to get tested for HPV. Even though they can’t get cervical cancer, they can pass the infection on to a woman. In addition to genital warts, men can also develop penile and anal cancer from an HPV infection, although these cases are less common.

Some men on campus may be familiar with the HPV virus but may be unaware that they too can catch it and develop health problems.

“I don’t know much about the virus; I thought it was just for women,” said senior Kyle Ogden. “People should definitely be more aware about the virus … we need to find better means of getting the word out.”

Appointments to get the HPV vaccination can be made at the Student Health Center.