Another frustrating headline on a reputable news organization's website. One that leads you to believe that science shows a correlation between an ailment 80 percent of us have and a disease that's reportedly the leading cause of death in adult men and women.
The Wall Street Journal, followed by popular news outlets including Fox News online, posted this while we all drank our morning coffee/tea/mimosas and surely freaked more than a few of us out. Remember when anal cancer was linked to HPV and oral sex and we all stayed celibate and seated upright for a week?
But reading further with a shaky mouse, one learns that this “HPV=heart disease” hypothesis came from a study involving merely 2,450 women – no men involved whatsoever – between the broad age range of 20 and 59.
Sixty percent had suffered a heart attack or stroke and of that percentage 39 had HPV. So the scientists at the American College of Cardiology suspected that, after adjusting for diabetes, smoking and other health factors that influence the likelihood of heart disease, women with HPV are 2.86 percent more likely to also have problems with their tickers than women free of the common sexually transmitted virus.
But wait a minute. The important factors that weren't considered in this initial conclusion include age. Most women who test positive for HPV end up curing the infection on their own, as their bodies are resilient machines that attack the cervical lesions before they grow into something significant.
There was no distinguishing between what stage each woman's HPV infection had reached – most cases of HPV infection are not large or established enough to cause concern for cancer-causing cell growth. (Though that doesn't mean it's something to scoff at and ignore.)
The longer the virus exists untreated or unnoticed, the more likely it is to grow to a more severe stage that could cause cervical or other forms of cancer.
The Wall Street Journal article acknowledges the above-mentioned facts with comment from study author and cardiology director at University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, Kenichi Fujise.
Fujise noted that the study's conclusions can't tell whether having HPV at a young age puts a woman at greater heart disease risk later in life, or even if the virus causes heart issues in the first place.
He says animal studies have shown that HPV can produce a protein that reduces the effectiveness of the body's natural tumor-suppressing genes p53 and retinoblastoma protein.
Fujise also says these animal studies, performed with research partner and co-author Hsu-Ko Kuo, show these two genes “seem” to have something to do with regulating hardening of the arteries.
BUT they ultimately conclude that we need a “better understanding of the basic science” between HPV and the two genes before we can truly conclude anything.
And that's precisely what the Wall Street Journal's and subsequent follower media outlets left to the end of the article. What, to us, seems to be the most significant bit of info regarding these scientists' preliminary work wasn't enough to grab readers' attention and boost page views.
But with an eye-catching – and fear-inducing – headline, one that gives the impression that solid conclusions and connections between HPV and heart disease have been made, who in his right mind wouldn't click, read and possibly share on their Facebook/Google+/MySpace (just kidding on that last one) walls?
We simply encourage you to read more than what the headlines tell you, and ladies while you're at it try not to forget your pap smear at your annual gyno exam, as unpleasant as it might feel.
Though some doctors don't feel it's necessary, or even a good idea, to get checked yearly it's the only way we can monitor our own cervices with enough confidence to avoid spitting out our coffee when we see scary headlines like these.
Cuz most guys don't know when or if they have it (unless a genital wart appears and is noticed) so your best bet is to trust your pap results and that condom that you'd better be using when you fuck around.