Washington study finds one is enough to contract HPV

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

More than 30 strains of human papillomavirus affect the genital area, but it only takes one sexual partner for a woman to be infected.

A recent study of female university students at the University of Washington indicated nearly one-third of women who reported having just one male sexual partner became infected with a strain of HPV within a year.

By three years into those relationships, the number jumped to 50 per cent of the women " even though they still only had one partner.

The Washington research, led by Dr. Rachel Winer, recruited 244 female students between the ages of 18 and 22. The study looked at women who waited until they were in university to begin having sex.

The women kept Web-based diaries of their sexual activities and guessed at the number of partners their boyfriend had had in addition to gynecological examinations every four months.

“We expected this to be a high rate,” Winer said. “This is in line with other research showing a higher rate of infection with first time intercourse.”

Researchers attributed the infections two, and even three, years into their first sexual relationship to slacking off in condom use and sexual contact with other partners (by the women and their boyfriends) that allowed transmission to occur.

HPV is a highly contagious virus and one of the most common sexually transmitted infections. HPV types six, 11 may cause genital warts, and types 16, and 18 potentially lead to cervical cancer.

Currently, Merck Frosst’s Gardasil vaccine can protect against types six, 11, 16 and 18. While the federal government is funding immunization for all young women in Grade 8, the vaccine is recommended for any females aged nine to 26.

Dr. Bryna Warshawsky, associate medical officer of health for the Middlesex-London Health Unit, said the results reinforce the need for women to be vaccinated " whether they are sexually active or not.

However, for those females above Grade 8 there is no opportunity to recieve the expensive vaccine " around $150 per dose " for free.

Do the results of this new study make Western students more willing to pay for Gardasil?

“Yes and no,” Jen Thompson, a third-year social justice and peace student, said. “[The vaccine] should be in place in Grade 8 at school " that’s an appropriate age ... but I never thought about taking it.”

Thompson said the vaccine is something she’d consult her doctor about, and she noted the high price is unfair to those who can’t afford it.

“Personally, I don’t want the vaccine,” Brittany Stief, a fourth-year economics student, said. “There’s still so much information coming in about this. I want more education on the matter.”

Dr. Warshawsky said, “The vaccine has gone through all the approval processes ... it’s approved in over 80 countries. It’s found to be safe and effective. There should be no hesitation in using the HPV vaccine.”

Stief feels sexual health does not necessarily require a vaccine.

“People just need to be more responsible,” Stief said. This means using protection and being open about sexual history with a partner, she explained.

Dr. Warshawsky agreed: “It’s still important to always use condoms and get Pap tests.”

For information on the HPV vaccine, students can attend the town hall meeting at 2:30 p.m. in the McKellar Room (UCC 290) on Jan. 22nd, featuring Dr. Warshawsky and other speakers.

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