Thursday, October 2, 2008

HPV Not a Dissuasion from Sexual Promiscuity?

In recent news articles and television coverage, there is evidence that incidents of the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) have continued to rise. There are numerous strains of the virus, thirteen of which are known carcinogens (cancer-sources). HPV has been known to create lesions on and around a woman's cervix, eventually leading to cervical cancer (HPV has been implicated in over 99% of cervical cancer cases). HPV is the source of the ignominious genital warts and is the leading cause of miscarriage (spontaneous abortion). It is generally obtained from sexual contact and is generally not prevented by condom use, as it is usually spread via skin contact rather than body fluids.

Women are not the only ones affected. On a lower scale, men experience penile, prostate, and testicular cancers. There is also a new study out that links many forms of mouth, tongue and throat cancers to the disease. Yes, you can catch it from oral sex. One article reports that it is set to outpace smoking as the leading cause of these cancers within the next few years. So, it is obvious that HPV is highly contagious, that it is not blocked by condoms, and that it usually leads to cancer and reproductive problems.

The next question is, how common is it? Here is where some speculation enters the picture. Because there are so many strains of HPV, and some infected individuals are asymptomatic, it is surmised that HPV cases are largely underreported. 5.5 million new cases are expected this year in the United States. Doctors believe (conservatively) that at least 20 million have the disease at any given time. Others believe the numbers to be much higher. One article said approximately 50% of women can expect to be infected in their lives. One study I read (sorry, I don't have a link) said that up to 90% of U.S. citizens could expect to contract the virus (that study did not distinguish people who contracted the disease more than once). This is not merely a health concern, but an epidemic!

Some are not very worried, however. There are new treatments that seem to destroy the cancers. "The good news is that survival rates for the cancer are also increasing. That's because tumors caused by HPV respond better to chemotherapy and radiation." Another treatment is to wash the cervix with vinegar and freeze-off any lesions that turn white, prior to a cancerous state. But the new "savior of sexuality" is the HPV inoculation. You may have seen the adds for vaccinating your schoolgirls with Gardisil and the like. "One less!" These shots are recommended at age eleven or twelve and booster shots should be administered until around age 26, after which the effectiveness has not been determined. Merck, the maker of Gardisil, is planning on seeking FDA approval soon for a vaccine for men as well. There are a couple of problems with Gardisil and other similar vaccines, however. They only work on a few strains of HPV. There are also no guarantees at this point of its overall effectiveness. The Guttmacher Report on Public Policy suggests that condom use and lesion-freezing are reasonable control measures in sub-Saharan Africa (although neither prevent the spread of or the other damage associated with the disease), and these accompanied by the vaccine in the United States.

There is an argument called Ockham's Razor that has been used by philosophers for ages; The simplest explanation/solution is usually the best. The solutions of the Guttmacher Report and many liberal sources include spending huge amounts of individuals' and taxpayer dollars for programs to undo the effects of the disease or for vaccines that may or may not work. Doesn't abstinence appear to be the simpler and more cost-effective solution? Even if Christian morality were to be taken out of the debate (and it should not be), abstinence would still be the better choice. Only abstinence can fully prevent infection.

The simple solution, however, is not what these doctors and researchers want. They are clear in their agenda. The Guttmacher Report says, "[A]ny effort to undermine global confidence in condoms places women and men around the world at tremendous risk of contracting a number of potentially debilitating and deadly diseases." Sure, all can agree with that. But the problem here is a faulty premise. The writers of this report assume that people have to have premarital, or extramarital, sex. A second faulty assumption is that abstinence programs are going to do away with teaching about condoms. The report does not want any chipping away at public confidence in condoms. "[E]xaggerating the imperfections of condoms will [not] dissuade people from having sex . . . the more likely alternative . . . is to discourage protective behavior when people do have sex." Yet to put misplaced trust in a placebo will not help them either.

You see, more is at risk here than condoms. There is a fight over basic morality. Even deeper is the scientific doubt of a creator. This argument over HPV is essentially the same argument over teaching Creation or Design in our schools, posting the Ten Commandments in courthouses, and allowing Creationist theories into the scientific community. We see that there is a fundamental difference in how to view reality and morality. And those who oppose Christian morality are willing for people to become sick, spread disease, and possibly die to keep heads in the sand. Can anyone who reads the numbers and the facts concerning HPV not come away with a fear of casual sex? Personally, even if other factors (my marriage covenant vows, my love and care for my wife, the fear of condemnation from God, church, and seminary) did not prevent me from extramarital sexuality, the risk of contracting such a ubiquitous and pernicious disease certainly would!

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Update 3/30/11: A recent New York Daily News article reported that HPV contracted from oral sex was one of the new leading causes of throat, tongue, and oral cancers in the U.S. It is now en par with tobbacco use. Men, it seems are contracting this cancer far more often than women, possibly because they perform oral sex upon women without protection, whereas women are more likely to perform oral sex on men wearing condoms. It also did not factor in homosexual behavior or whether gay men used protection. In another article, picked up from Reuters, medical researchers have determined that around half the adult male population of the U.S. carry some form of HPV (there are over 40 strains). This certainly supports Paul's argument in 1 Corinthians 6:18, "Flee sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body."

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