With 6 million new cases each year, the human papillomavirus (HPV) – best known as the primary cause of cervical cancer in females – is the most rampant sexually transmitted infection in America, practically as common as the cold. The US Centers for Disease Control estimates that more than 50 percent of sexually active men and women will eventually contract HPV, though most won’t ever know it. It can be symptom-free and frighteningly easy to transmit, through intercourse, oral sex, and, some doctors say, even aggressive French kissing, which anyone who’s chaperoned a school dance knows kids are sort of into these days.
Kids are, of course, the issue. There’s a HPV vaccine, but in order to be most effective, it must be administered far in advance of any sort of sexual contact – the CDC recommends starting the series at age 11 or 12. The uptake’s been slow, to say the least: Four years after the Food and Drug Administration approved the vaccine, fewer than 11 percent of girls in the United States have received all three shots.