Life with HPV is not very easy
Letters to the Editor
Published: Thursday, January 29, 2004
Updated: Monday, January 18, 2010 17:01
HPV can truly be a scary thing. As one of the many infected college students, I know. After reading the article in Monday's paper, I wanted to share a little bit about my experience with it, and a few things the article didn't mention that students at UConn should be aware of.
After a bad breakup last April, I went a little nuts on the rebound. I thought nothing of the consequences until some small white bumps appeared "down under" in September. I had a pap smear done, and my suspicions were confirmed: Human Papilloma Virus.
Here are a few important things everyone should know about HPV. First, HPV is not necessarily permanent. Usually, if you're a non-smoker and generally healthy, your body's immune system can fight the virus off within a period of 1-3 years, making you no longer contagious.
Second, HPV in and of itself is not life threatening. Not all strains are connected with cervical cancer; only the high-risk, more severe strains cause that problem. Also, like any cancer, cervical cancer can be prevented and/or beaten, if detected early enough. So, a woman who stays on top of getting pap smears is generally not going to be at a high risk for cervical cancer.
Third, it is worth noting the ways in which HPV is passed from partner to partner. HPV is a skin virus, which means that a blood test won't detect it. There is no direct test for HPV, actually: Pap smears do not detect the virus, they detect changes the virus causes in cervical cells. HPV lives in the skin cells, and genital skin-to-skin contact is the most likely path of transmission. This means CONDOMS WILL PROBABLY NOT PROTECT YOU! If the virus is present in skin not covered by the condom, and that skin touches your skin, you're out of luck.
That's what happened to me. I used condoms everytime, but I still got it. Here's one small bit of comfort, though: HPV generally does not pass through fluids, which means it's unlikely (though still totally possible) for HPV to pass through oral or finger play. Of course it's still possible to pass it that way, but it's unlikely. The most important thing to remember, though, is even if you're using a condom, you're not really safe.
When I found out I had HPV, I was devastated. It's been four months since I was diagnosed, and it still bothers me. After all, it's a huge part of my life, and it affects many of my choices. I spent a long time despairing that I would be alone forever, that I was a disgusting mass of disease. Over time, I've come to grips with the fact that yes, HPV is a part of my life, and no, I'm not a mass of disease, and yes, I can deal with having HPV and yes, my immune system can and will beat it.
I've even come to see some good in it: I've been with my boyfriend for a month now. He's known about the
HPV since we met, right after I was diagnosed with it four months ago. He is rare and precious to me, he has chosen to be with me, and wait until my immune system has fought the virus off. So, in a way, HPV has done me a favor- it's revealed to me the only man who cared enough about me to stay in a relationship with me, despite the fact he couldn't have sex with me right away, and maybe not for a year or two.
It is estimated by the Center for Disease Control (as stated in Monday's article) that 75 percent of Americans have some sort of HPV. It's safe to assume, therefore, that everyone has it, and it's sensible to base your lifestyle choices on that assumption. I think the reasons for the widespread existence of HPV are many, but among them are these two: One, many people don't even know they have the virus, and two, some people who do know fail to tell their partners. After I was diagnosed, I told each of my past partners I might have passed it to him. One nonchalantly said, "Oh yeah, one of my exes had that." I was outraged; I demanded to know why he hadn't told me. His response: It doesn't affect men. I don't think he realized even if he wasn't affected, even if he showed no symptoms, he still could (and did) carry the virus and pass it on. Either that, or he just didn't care.
For any of you who know you have HPV don't despair. Cancer can be avoided with regular pap smears, and chances are your immune system can and will fight off the virus. With a good immune system, it's quite possible to clear yourself of the virus within as little as six months, though healing time varies. Just please- be responsible. If you're infected, tell your partner(s)- you, and they, have some decisions to make.
For any of you who think you might be infected, don't hesitate to find out. You owe it to your partner, and to yourself. For anyone and everyone, HPV is fast becoming a fact of life; it's almost unavoidable. I caution everyone, on this campus and beyond, to understand that if they are sexually active they are at risk, and to act and make choices with their own health and well being in mind.