Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection. Certain HPV types cause nearly all cervical cancer cases, and others cause genital warts.
Researchers at the University of Washington have demonstrated for the first time that condoms can prevent women from becoming infected with HPV.
This new study involved 82 female college undergraduates who reported their first intercourse with a male partner during the study or within two weeks of its start. All these women had pelvic exams and HPV and Pap tests every four months. They were also made to complete a Web-based diary about their sexual behavior every two weeks.
It was found that, the women whose partners always used a condom were 70% less prone to acquire an HPV infection than women whose partners used condoms less than 5% of the time.
In most cases, HPV infection shows no symptoms and goes away without the person ever knowing.
However, for some women it causes cervical cancer, a disease which kills over 300,000 women each year globally. About 50% of sexually active adults are infected with HPV.
Although, Gardasil, a vaccine that protects from HPV infection, was approved by the FDA last month, it is stressed that condom use is better at protecting women from infection than men.
“It really shows the right way to study condom effectiveness,” said Dr. Hunter Handsfield who is an STD expert and former director of the STD Control Program at Public Health, Seattle & King County.
The interesting point to be noted is that to avoid recruiting women who’d been infected before the study’s outset, researchers at the UW enrolled only women who’d never had sex.
The study’s design for asking women about condom use before they had contracted HPV, rather than relying on memory months after a diagnosis was highly praised by Handsfield.
“This study, from a political and social policy perspective, is probably the most important research in STDs in the last five years,” Handsfield said.
“This is about as ideal a study as you can get,” said Dr. Tom Fitch, a San Antonio pediatrician and board chairman at the Medical Institute for Sexual Health.
According to Rachel Winer, the lead author, women can significantly lower HPV infection risk by using condoms consistently with their male partners. She also stressed that the protection may not be 100% and regular screenings will be required in combating cervical cancer.