If you have contracted HPV or are worried about contracting the virus, you may find it helpful to learn about the history of HPV. HPV, also known as the human papillomavirus, is a non-enveloped DNA virus that can cause warts or papillomas in humans. While over 130 different human papillomaviruses have been found, only between 30 and 40 affect the anogenital region are sexually transmitted and produce genital warts. Most HPV infections are asymptomatic, but a small percentage have been found to cause cancers of the cervix, vagina, anus, vulva and penis.
The discovery of HPV and its link to certain cancers was no overnight discovery. One of the first signs of HPV came in Italy in 1842 when a doctor noticed that married women and prostitutes developed cervical cancer, but nuns did not. While the doctor did not successfully determine the cause, this research was one of the first signs that cancers could be sexually transmitted.
The next significant development came in 1907 when Giuseppe Ciuffo determined that skin warts and genital warts were related and the likely cause of both types of warts was a virus. This hypothesis was confirmed in 1949 when technology became available to observe the virus itself. The overall study of papillomaviruses took a large step forward in 1930 when Peyton Rous discovered that the viruses could cause skin cancer in rabbits.
Years of research into HPV came to a head in 1976 when Dr. Harald zur Hausen proposed that the HPV caused cervical cancer. It would take years before Dr. Hausen and his team could prove their ideas, but in the process they identified many of the HPV strains that cause cancer—this research led to the development of a vaccine in 2006. There are two available HPV vaccines, Gardasil and Cervarix, which are available in several developed countries.
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