Many are familiar with HIV, or the human immunodeficiency virus, which attacks cells that help the body fight infection.
If untreated, it may result to the more dangerous AIDS or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, a condition that leads to the breakdown of the entire system.
And make no mistake about it, once one acquires HIV, a patient has it for life.
However, there is another type of sexually transmitted infection (STI) that is not as popular—or infamous—as HIV, but should likewise be a cause of concern for many people around the world—HPV or human papillomavirus.
Unlike HIV, the human papillomavirus continues to be recognized as the most common sexually transmitted virus globally. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said about 85 percent of people get infected by HPV at one point in their lives.
However, the reason why HPV is not in the radar of many people or is largely unknown, is that HPV infections may go unnoticed because symptoms may appear only after many years. Sadly, even without symptoms, HPV carriers can still spread the virus to others.
A common burden
HPV is a virus that may lead to different diseases including genital warts and cancer. A 2019 study published in the online journal Infectious Disease and Cancer says that genital warts have an overall prevalence of almost 3 percent for Filipino men and women, with a higher prevalence among men.
HPV-related cancers, such as cervical cancer, have also made its way into the population. According to a 2019 study by the HPV Information Center, about 7,190 new cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed annually in the Philippines. The same study also revealed that the disease has also taken almost 4,088 lives annually.
And HPV is not just a concern for women but for men as well. They should also be part of the discussion, according to Dr. Jovanni Templonuevo, Family Medicine and Genito-Urinary Medicine (Venereology) Specialist. He said that in 2018, there were about 43 million HPV infections, mostly among people in their late teens and early 20s.
Most men with HPV may not have any symptoms of infection and unknowingly, they are transferring the virus to their partners. Men can also get genital warts, including penile and anal cancers due to persistent infections.
The most effective solution remains to be practicing safe sex through correct and consistent usage of condoms. “It helps lower the chances of getting and spreading HPV infections, protects your partner and yourself, and give you a healthy and stress-free life,” Dr. Templonuevo said.
Better yet, people should know that HPV is preventable and it cannot harm you and steal your dreams. “All we have to do is to educate ourselves and get vaccinated with the available HPV vaccines that are already available,” he said.
Better than cure
Perhaps the reason why HPV is not as well-known compared to HIV is because of the lack of awareness about the virus, and the lack of education on how to deal with it.
This is why MSD in the Philippines continues to raise awareness about the most common sexually transmitted virus, the HPV, as part of its core advocacy, Guard Against HPV, which advocates taking action as a crucial step in combating HPV in the community.
“The discussion about HPV is often tied to cervical cancer. We have to remember that HPV infections are sexually transmitted,” said Dr. Mary Ann Escalona, Country Medical Lead of MSD in the Philippines. “By putting HPV back to the conversation on overall health, we can make better decisions that can help protect us and our loved ones from HPV-related diseases.”
“We all have a role to play in the fight against HPV,” Dr. Escalona continued. “As parents, we need to guide our children properly so they know how to be responsible for their health. As spouses and partners, we need to keep ourselves armed with the right information on how we can keep ourselves at the peak of our health, how to avoid infections, and how to prevent spreading diseases. This way, we give each other a chance to thrive without worrying about disease.”
The Department of Health recommends that women must also undergo a Pap Smear three years after their first vaginal intercourse, then followed by another Pap Smear test every year for the next three years. If results are negative, the test can be done every two to three years.
HPV vaccination is also available to help provide protection against infections, especially for children starting at nine years old before they become exposed to the virus in later life. Parents can consult their pediatrician to learn more about HPV vaccination for their children.
To reach a wider audience, Guard Against HPV also went digital through several social media and other online platforms and introduced a hand gesture to help raise awareness about HPV. The movement is simple and lets people trace the shape of an awareness ribbon in the air.
“Wearing a ribbon has been traditionally used to show support for a cause. However, with the current situation, we have been limited to the use of digital channels to get in touch with our friends and family—but this won’t mean we can’t continue with our advocacy,” Dr. Escalona explains. “The aim of the ribbon gesture is to reach a wide audience, including the youth so they can know about HPV and understand how they can guard themselves and their loved ones against the disease.”
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