Likely due to a rich tradition of customs and beliefs, Filipinos have an abundance of myths that we seem to readily embrace. From the old tradition of disallowing two weddings in a family in the same year to the prevailing notion that eating chicken on New Year’s Day invites financial straits for the coming year, Filipinos have come to live with these customs in spite of their lack of rational and scientific explanations.
But when it comes to health, myths and false beliefs may dangerously lead to irrational fears, incorrect hygiene practices and even social stigma.
Some seem to think that good hygiene and a healthy lifestyle are enough to deter all kinds of illnesses, including sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Worse, most assume that only those who are sexually promiscuous or those with multiple sexual partners are the only ones at risk of STIs.
Interestingly, a recently concluded study by the Obstetrics and Gynecology Department of the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) has shown the occurrence of genital warts among women generally considered of low risk for STIs. The 2008 to 2009 PGH study revealed that almost half or 46% of female genital warts patients only had one lifetime sexual partner, 25% only had two. More of them were married at 46%, whereas 37% were single, and 15% were living-in with a partner.
“The findings may indicate that we might need to rethink the notion that the risk of acquiring sexually transmitted infections, like genital warts, is higher in women with a sexually liberated lifestyle,” said Dr. Analyn T. Fuentes- Fallarme, one of the co-authors of the study and an OB-Infectious Disease consultant at UP-PGH.
Genital warts, which is the most common viral STI (according to UK data), is caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV) that can be passed on through sexual consummation as well as through mere genital-to-genital or hand-to-genital contact. Persons with HPV sometimes may not have signs and symptoms of the infection and they do not realize they are infected or that they are transmitting the virus. Persistent infection with HPV can lead to genital warts, cervical, vaginal, vulvar, anal, penile, and head and neck cancers.
There are more than 100 types of HPV. Of these, more than 40 infect the genital area of both men and women. HPV 16 and 18 account for about 70% of genital cancers while HPV 6 and 11 cause about 90% of genital warts. The PGH study shows that similar to other countries, HPV 6 and 11 are the types associated with genital warts cases in the Philippines.
Another common misconception about STIs is that only homosexual men are at risk of acquiring STIs. In truth, STIs spare no one. Genital warts alone infect approximately 32 million men and women around the world each year regardless of sexual profile. It is highly contagious that more than 75% of sexual partners develop the infection upon exposure.
As a preventive measure, common belief contends that regular condom use is enough deterrent against sexually transmitted infections. However, condoms cannot fully protect men and women from HPV and genital warts because uncovered areas are still at risk for infection.
Monogamy does not guarantee protection against HPV because as mentioned in the PGH study, even people with only one lifetime sexual partner can be infected with HPV and manifest genital warts. “The only sure way to prevent HPV is to avoid all sexual activity. However, this preventive measure is hard if not impossible to attain, hence other reasonable and feasible options, like vaccination, should be considered,” explained Dr. Fallarme.
When it comes to your health, it’s better to be safe than sorry. See your doctor for more information about HPV, genital warts, and the ways to protect yourself. You may also log on to www.helpfighthpv.com