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Science / Medicine : Virus Tied to Venereal Disease

<i> From Times staff and wire reports</i>

Researchers report that a virus implicated in cervical cancer causes the most common sexually transmitted disease among teen-age women. In a study of 1,400 women under age 19 in the San Francisco area, scientists found more of the teen-agers suffered from genital infections by the human papilloma virus, or HPV, than from chlamydia and gonorrhea combined.

“That is an extraordinary finding, important for taking preventive and detection measures,” said Dr. Gary Schoolnik, chief of the Division of Geographic Medicine and associate professor of medicine at Stanford University.

HPV-caused venereal diseases have increased sixfold in the United States in the last decade, Schoolnik said, with Americans making an estimated 2 million visits to doctors each year for these conditions. The HPV family includes 45 known types of viruses, which can persist for years and cause disorders ranging from hand warts to cancer. Of the sexually transmitted HPV diseases, the most common include genital warts, cervical intraepithelial neoplasia, or CIN, and cancer of the cervix.

Detection of such infections will be made easier with the commercial advent--as early as the end of this month--of a specific DNA probe test, which is more sensitive than the Pap smear and can identify HPV in general. Stanford scientists said they have come up with an even more sensitive test, the only one that can distinguish papilloma viruses having malignant potential from the benign types.

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