Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Possibly the Most Informative Public Service Announcement I Will Ever Make

Do YOU know your HIV status? Washington, DC has announced a new public health initiative, encouraging all citizens between 14 and 84 to find out their HIV status through free, confidential, and fast testing.

Even if you don't avail yourself of this program, ask your doctor for HIV screening as part of your regular annual check-up. Because DC is a high-risk city, most insurance plans will pay for the test.

So, what are you waiting for? Stop reading and go find out!

As long as we're talking publicly about private parts, I shall share with you some more wonderful information, this time about Human Papilloma Virus (HPV).

Fun Facts (Or, How Women Get Screwed, Again. As Usual. This Time By A Nefarious Little Virus.)
  • While HPV affects both men and women, the potential negative impacts are significantly higher for women. (Hello, cervical cancer! I mean, when was the last time you heard of someone being diagnosed with penile cancer, really?)
  • No one's really sure where HPV comes from, how exactly it's transmitted, how long the typical incubation period is, or why it causes cervical cancer in some women and not others. (We'll get around to answering those questions, right after we eradicate male pattern baldness.)
  • Some women have multiple positive HPV tests; others have only one positive test. Is it the same virus, recurring? Is it a different infection from a later partner? They don't know those answers either.
  • There is no test for HPV in men. And, the HPV test for women is often only done when a Pap test shows abnormal results. So, most people with HPV and most people capable of transmitting HPV? Don't even know they have it.
  • Condoms do not prevent the transmission of HPV, as the virus is smaller than the "trapping capability" of latex. (Please excuse my totally-made-up medical terminology.)

Now, the good news: the FDA recently approved a vaccine for HPV, suitable for girls/women ages 9 to 26. If you're not too old, ask your doctor about it.

Also, this year the guidelines for Pap and HPV testing changed. The new recommended practice is as follows:
  • For women over the age of 30 -- Pap and HPV testing every three years, assuming no abnormalities are discovered.
  • For women under the age of 30 -- Pap tests every year or two are recommended. An HPV test is only necessary if an abnormality is identified in the Pap.

Not that I should have to scare you into doing good, healthy things for your body, but just in case the Don't Drink & Drive On Prom Night Or You'll End Up A Bloody Mess Wrapped Around A Tree video did the trick for you in driver's ed, I will point out that the treatment for low-grade abnormalities is cryotherapy, where, yes, the doctor freezes off part of your cervix. Good times. For moderate to high-grade abnormalities, the doctor uses a metal wire with an electric current running through it to remove the abnormal cells. Nothing says FUN like an electric current in your cervix.

But seriously, don't let this scare you. The treatments for HPV-induced, pre-cancerous abnormalities are far less invasive and scary than the treatments for, you know, actual cervical cancer.

If your HPV test comes back positive, I suggest reading this, trying not to freak out too much, and maybe e-mailing me. Also, wine. Lots and lots of wine.


At Wed Jun 28, 05:33:00 AM PDT, Blogger doctor chip said...

I think, instead of "trapping capability", I would have tried "orafice matrix permeability".



At Wed Jun 28, 05:54:00 AM PDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lifetime risk of cancer: Woman 1 in 3, Men 1 in 2.

Oh and I know my HIV status because I donate blood every 8 weeks.


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