HPV update: Condoms offer protection from HPV infection

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HPV update: Condoms offer protection from HPV infection

Condoms significantly reduce the risk of HPV, a new study finds.

What happened? Condoms have long been known to offer protection from pregnancy and HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. The degree of protection from human papillomavirus (HPV) has been less clear — until now.

In a recent study, young women whose partners used condoms every time they had sex were 70 percent less likely to contract HPV — the virus that causes most genital warts and cervical cancers — than were women whose partners used condoms less than 5 percent of the time. Women whose partners used condoms more than half the time were 50 percent less likely to contract HPV.

The study included 82 women who reported first having sex with a male partner within two weeks of enrolling in the study or during the study period.

HPV spreads through sexual contact. Of the more than 100 different types of HPV, only a few cause genital warts. But these strains of the virus are highly contagious. About two-thirds of people who have sexual contact with someone who has genital warts develop the condition, usually within three months of contact. Cervical cancer is another serious concern. For some women, HPV converts cells on the surface of the cervix into cancer cells — often years after the initial infection.

What does this mean to you? Limiting your number of sexual partners and using a condom every time you have sex can significantly reduce your risk of contracting HPV. There are no guarantees, however. Even with appropriate condom use, HPV can spread through skin-to-skin contact with any infected part of the body.

A new vaccine offers protection from the most dangerous types of HPV. The vaccine is most effective if given to girls before they become sexually active — but safe sex and regular checkups remain essential. Consult your doctor for routine Pap tests and pelvic exams.

Last Updated: 06/30/2006
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