Here’s a scary thought ladies: you could contract human papillomavirus (HPV) from a visit to the gynecologist’s office.
Really? As if getting a regular check-up weren’t bad enough, you’re now going to threaten me with a virus?
Yes. In a study done this year, (2016), researchers in Switzerland found conclusive evidence that gynecological equipment and surfaces in hospitals and private practices are contaminated by HPV despite routine cleaning.
Here’s what went down: study samples were gathered from four consulting rooms at the Gynecology Department of the University Hospitals of Geneva and the Gynecology Department of the University Hospital of Lausanne, and from four private practices located in Geneva.
Researchers took 110 samples from surfaces and equipment in examining rooms, twice a day for two days.
What they found was that HPV contamination was in many locations and that is was almost 3 times higher in gynecological private practices than in hospitals.
Where was the virus, exactly? It was lingering on various surfaces including ultrasound gel tubes, and medical instruments. The lamp used to shine light on patients during examinations actually had one of the highest rates of contamination, with doctors likely touching it during sessions to re-position for better illumination.
And interestingly, the box containing plastic gloves made to ward off contamination in general also had the presence of the virus.
It sure makes the staff at these medical facilities appear lazy and negligent in their disinfecting habits. But rather than point fingers, scientists are saying the study results support findings that certain strains of HPV are now resistant to many sterilizing agents.
Gross. Should we be concerned, though? Some might say this doesn’t matter. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the U.S. – in fact, it’s so common that nearly all people who are sexually active get it at some point in their lives.
But the problem lies in the fact that sometimes HPV doesn’t go away on its own, and it can result in an on-going infection that can cause genital warts and even cancer.
So, really, having the virus in your face, up your nose and on your ultrasound gel tube could be a little threatening. Especially seeing as the stats say HPV is estimated to be responsible for up to 99% of cervical cancers, 90% of anal cancers, 65% of vaginal cancers, 50% of vulvar cancers and 45%–90% of oropharyngeal (throat) cancers, to get technical.
What’s the answer? Vaccines are available for youth aged 11 and 12 and catch-up vaccines are recommended for adults who weren’t vaccinated when they were younger: through age 21 for males, and through a 26 for females.
But if you’re over 26, I guess the medical establishment is assuming you’ve likely already been infected, even if you never knew it.
Hopefully a more effective disinfectant can be found for use in cervical examining areas-until then, we’ll have to cross our fingers and toes.