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Archive for Saturday, January 11, 2003

HPV epidemic plagues young people

January 11, 2003

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We've all become aware of the AIDS epidemic, but I recently heard that a college friend of mine who used to sleep around has been diagnosed with something called HPV. I'm not exactly sure what it is, but it sounded serious. Are you familiar with this disease?

Yes, I am -- and I'm afraid it's very serious. You've heard that HIV is deadly because it leads to AIDS, but the human papilloma virus (HPV) causes far more deaths among women in the U.S. each year. Thousands of American women die from it. It causes genital warts, and in some patients, leads to cancer of the cervix. In fact, it is estimated that 90 percent of cervical cancer cases are caused by HPV, and the virus itself cannot be eradicated once it is in the system.

A medical investigation of this virus was conducted at the University of California at Berkeley in 1992. Averaging 21 years of age, all the young women coming to the campus health center for routine gynecological examinations for one year were tested for HPV. Would you believe that 47 percent of these female students were found to carry this virus?

Every one of them will suffer painful symptoms for the rest of their lives, and some will die of cervical and uterine cancer. The most disturbing news is that HPV can be transmitted while the male is wearing a condom. The virus lurks around the portion of the genitalia that is not covered by the condom.

This is one of the reasons some of us object strenuously to the campaign to get young people to have "protected sex." It gives them a false sense of security. There is no such thing as safe sex when it occurs promiscuously and outside the marital relationship. Abstinence before marriage is the only safe way to go.

You obviously have a great empathy for kids who are in the junior-high years -- especially those who are rejected and ridiculed by their peers. Have you always felt that way about that age group, which many adults don't like to be around?

My concern for early adolescents dates back to the years I spent teaching in junior high school. I was only 25 years old at the time and I fell in love with 250 science and math students. The day I left to accept other responsibilities I fought back the tears. Some of the kids were hurting badly, and I developed a keen sensitivity to their plight. Let me illustrate how I saw them.

Years later, I was sitting in my car at a fast-food restaurant, eating a hamburger and french fries. Then I happened to look in the rearview mirror. There I saw the most pitiful, scrawny, dirty little kitten on a ledge behind my car. I was so touched by how hungry she looked that I got out, tore off a piece of my hamburger and tossed it to her. But before this kitten could reach it, a huge gray tomcat sprang out of the bushes, grabbed the morsel and gobbled it down. I felt sorry for the kitten, who turned and ran back into the shadows, still hungry and frightened.

I was immediately reminded of those kids I used to teach. They were just as needy, just as deprived, just as lost as that little kitten. It wasn't food that they required; it was love and attention and respect that they needed, and they were desperate for it. And just when they opened up and revealed the pain inside, one of the more popular kids would abuse and ridicule them, sending them scurrying back into the shadows, frightened and alone.

We, as adults, must never forget the pain of trying to grow up and of the competitive world in which many adolescents live today. Taking a moment to listen, to care, and to direct such a youngster may be the best investment of a lifetime.





-- Dr. Dobson is president of the nonprofit organization Focus on the Family, P.O. Box 444, Colorado Springs, CO. 80903; or www.family.org.

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