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HPV--it's not nearly as serious as HIV, but if you have it, you'll definitely want to have it treated.
Dr. Kim Mulvihill tells us about HPV in today's Healthbeat Report.
Human Papillomavirus, or HPV, is very common. In fact, it's estimaged that three out of four adults have been exposed. "There's no question that the frequency of infection is related to the number of sexual partners."
Most people develop antibodies to the virus and never have a problem. However, certain strains of the virus can lead to genital warts, even cervical cancer.
"The cancer risk with 6 & 11 are very low and on the other hand high if you get infected with HPV types 16 & 18."
University of Utah's Doctor Woody Spruance is an expert on viruses, and took part in clinical trials of an experimental vaccine that shows promise against one strain, HPV 16.
"It's a wonderful time in virology and in gynecology and oncology to think that we'll be making a major leap, a paradigm shift, in therapeutics," he says.
Here's how it works. The vaccine is a sham virus that's made to mimic the real HPV virus. It's got the same outer coating or suit of clothes that the virus normally wears, but there's nothing inside, no DNA.
"This sham virus is injected into the arm, the body develops antibodies to the sham virus and those antibodies are fully capable of recognizing and inactivating the real virus if the patient happens to be exposed to the real virus."
But the research doesn't stop there. A clinical trial has already begun on another vaccine that targets four types of HPV-- 16, 18, 6 and 11, which account for 90 percent of all genital warts, and 70 percent of cervical cancers.
"It's a randomized double blind placebo controlled trial, 50% will get the vaccine, 50% get the placebo."
Centers across the country are now enrolling healthy, sexually active women aged 16 to 23.
And while the clinical trial are starting with young women, the benefits of a successful vaccine would likely extend much further.
"Men might also benefit from being protected against papillomavirus infections. They also get common genital warts, they can get some cancers of the penis and anal cancers can be related to HPV but it's much, much less of a problem than the frequency with which women get cervical cancers."
What's more, vaccinating men could help block the spread of HPV.