What is safer sex? This remains such a broad topic but the key point behind it is risk reduction. Risk reduction involves encouraging individuals to reduce the risk they face in their own terms in order for them to participate in in sexual activities in the safest way possible. In effort to do this, the DeCalers this week are presented with information on STIs and various contraceptives. This way, they are have more information on hand available to improve their sexual health. Although we were discussing a large amount of viral, bacterial, and protozoan STIs, we focused on a few infections in order to gain a deeper understanding.
One of the STIs discussed in class was Human Papillomaviruses (HPV) which is the STI with the highest prevalence. It is important to know that there are over 100 strains of HPV. The virus itself is separated into two different types called mucosal and dermal HPV. Dermal HPV is found on the dermal layer of skin while the mucosal strains are found on mucosal tissues. Among mucosal strains, the virus splits again into low and higher risk strains. Each strain is numbered and the common lower risk strain that causes genital warts are numbered 6 and 11 while the high risk pre-cancerous strains are numbered 16 and 18. However, the most important key information to keep in mind is that although the CDC predicts that 80% of the sexually active population will become infected with HPV at some point in their lives, in most cases, the human immune system clears the virus on its own.
The good news regarding this STI is that there is a vaccine. It is currently approved for women and men ages 9-26. Although the vaccine does not cover all 124 current strains of HPV, it does protect against the most common and dangerous strains. The last thing to remember is to be sure to get regular pap smears that can show pre-cancerous cells and to get vaccinated if you are not already!