HPV Goes Viral

HPV is starting to go mainstream, and I for one am glad. This is a disease that, according to The Center for Disease Control, most people will get at some point in their lives. Is that as mind-blowingly bonkers to you as it is to me?  Most people? And I thought the 1 in 5 statistic that I heard in high school was scary. Let’s also take into consideration the fact that men cannot currently be tested for this disease. Men are walking around, right now, carrying this disease like a pair of sunglasses and have no idea how many people they are passing it to. What kind of sexist injustice is that? Did Pete Campbell think up this disease from the couch of his retro, corner office at Sterling-Cooper-Draper-Price? Does this also mean that I’m going to get HPV someday too? Does this make my Chris Traeger-style quest to hit the age 120 after a disease-free life, futile? HPV, you are a serious drag of vague proportions.

For a disease that seems to be startlingly common, it’s about time people started talking about it. If you watched last Sunday’s episode of HBO’s Girls, entitled “All Adventurous Women Do,” you know that Lena Dunham’s Hannah was diagnosed with HPV. Hannah receives this news through a call from her doctor following a standard STD test. I’ve had some friends receive this same diagnosis and found Hannah’s reaction to the news refreshingly realistic. In this episode, we see Hannah confused and frustrated as she comes to terms with her diagnosis and the reactions of her lady-crew ranging from tears of anger to straight-laced statistics. Hannah questions partners of her sexual past only to discover that men cannot be tested for the disease. She also learns that her friend, Jessa, has multiple strains of HPV and that apparently “all adventurous women do.”

If you are unfamiliar with this disease, let me give you some sex-ed basics. HPV(Human Papillomavirus) is a sexually transmitted disease with roughly 40 different strains. The CDC says that, while most cases of HPV clear up on their own within two years, some can lead to cervical cancer in women and some may result in genital warts. Vaccines are available and there are two brands of the HPV vaccine currently on the market (Cervarix and Gardasil). These are available to women through age 26. Both brands protect women against most cervical cancers. One of the vaccines (Gardasil) also protects against most genital warts as well as other, less common HPV-related cancers. But neither vaccine treats existing HPV, cervical cell changes, or genital warts.

I’d like to make it clear that I’m not a medical professional and I will make no attempt to give you medical advice. I’m also not going to tell you what to do with your body. That should really come from our political and religious leaders, am I right? …Totally kidding! Selfishly, I want all of you to live long and healthy lives so I can have some rad ol’ peeps to play Mahjong with. My goal here is not only to make people more aware of this disease but to also say that if you have recently been diagnosed, you are not alone. This disease is literally everywhere will continue to secretly spread as long as men can’t be tested. Hey science, I realize summer vacation is just around the corner, but do you think you can pick up the pace on this one? We’d all be able to sleep more soundly with some solid data and tests for both genders. Until that day comes, get yourself tested, continue getting regular check-ups and ask your doctor as many questions as you need to. How will Hannah handle the next step in this process? As she so delicately puts it, “getting her vagina scraped” all while maintaining her snarky, yet fun sense of humor, I’m sure.

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