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Preventing HPV

By Archives November 6, 2002

A Montreal physician is seeking female participants for a trial to test a new vaccine against the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), one strain of which is more commonly known as genital warts.

The virus is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) that most people don’t know they have, because it “works slowly and can take from two months to 30 years” to manifest itself as tiny cauliflower-like lesions, said Dr. Lucie Gilbert, a doctor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Montreal General Hospital. In some cases, the warts are not visible even to the naked eye.

According to Gilbert, “one in four women under the age of 30 are affected [by HPV]” and that’s why the trial is geared at women because they are “more vulnerable” than men.

By one estimate, 30 per cent of women under age 30 have HPV. But this doesn’t mean men aren’t prone to it also: up to one third of North American adults will contract the virus at some point in their lives.

Gilbert added that no cure exists to eliminate the virus completely. It can be spread by unprotected sex or by direct skin-to-skin contact with the infected area. The Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada says “condoms may not prevent transmission [of HPV] from one sexual partner to another, if the infected areas are not completely shielded by a latex condom.”

Although they may not always show symptoms, once someone has contracted HPV they will carry it for the rest of their life.

The vaccine has already been tested on animals and a small number of people and is in its final testing phase.

To continue her research, Gilbert needs female participants between the ages of 16 and 23 to undergo several exams such as pregnancy tests, swab checks for HPV and Pap smears. Participants will be questioned about their medical history and must not have had more than four sexual partners or an abnormal pap test.

The trial will last for four years. During those four years, volunteers will have six appointments: one in the first year, two in the second and third years and a final one on the fourth year. They will be compensated $50 for each visit.

Half of the participants will be given the vaccine while the other half will be given a placebo. Gilbert said no major side effects, other than injection sting and a fever-like sensation, have been reported thus far.

There are many strains of HPV but the most common types are 6 and 11, which cause genital warts and 16 and 18, which can cause cervical cancer in women. This vaccine will hopefully prevent infections of these common strains.

For more information on HPV or to particiapate in the study, call Dr. Gilbert’s office at 934-1934, ext. 44289