Journal of Community Health

, Volume 25, Issue 1, pp 67–78

Knowledge of Human Papillomavirus Infection Among Young Adult Men and Women: Implications for Health Education and Research

  • Heather Baer
  • Susan Allen
  • Lundy Braun


Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection of the genital tract is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and a subset of genital tract HPVs are etiologically associated with cervical cancer. The prevalence of HPV infection is highest among adolescents and young adults. This study was undertaken to explore first year college students' knowledge about HPVs and to determine whether there were gender differences in this knowledge. An anonymous survey was distributed to all first year students at a private university. The results were analyzed by gender. We found that 96.2% of males and 95.4% of females had heard of genital warts, although only 4.2% of males and 11.6% of females knew that HPV caused genital warts. Although there was a greater awareness of genital warts than HPV in this population, students were uncertain about modes of transmission of both genital warts and HPVs, and unclear about the importance of HPV infection relative to other STDs. For both men and women (87% and 87.4%, respectively), health education classes were the major source of information about STDs. We conclude that health education should be reconceptualized to incorporate a better understanding of STDs, including HPV infection, by engaging adolescents and young adults in exploring the biological and social context of STDs, their public health importance, strategies for prevention, and the uncertainty of our scientific knowledge.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Mandelbratt, J., Andrews, H., Kerner, J., et al. Determinants of late stage diagnosis of breast and cervical cancer: the impact of age, race, social class, and hospital type. Am J Public Health 1991; 81:646-649.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    zur Hausen, H. Papillomavirus infections: A major cause of human cancers. Biochim Biophys Acta 1996; 1288:F55-F78.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Moscicki, A-B., Palefsky, J., Gonzales, J., Schoolnik, GK. Human papillomavirus infection in sexually active adolescent females: Prevalence and risk factors. Pediatr Res 1990; 28:507-513.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Burk, RD., Ho, GYF., Beardsley, L., et al. Sexual behavior and partner characteristics are the predominant risk factors for genital human papillomavirus infection in young women. J Infec Dis 1996; 174:679-689.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Koutsky, L. Epidemiology of genital human papillomavirus infection. Am J Med 1997; 102:3-8.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Bauer, HM., Ting, Y., Greer, CE., et al. Genital human papillomavirus infection in female university students as determined by a PCR-based method. JAMA 1991; 265:472-477.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Rosenfeld, WD., Rose, E., Vermund, SH., Schreiber, K., Burk, RD. Follow-up evaluation of cervicovaginal human papillomavirus infection in adolescents. J Pediatr 1992; 121:307-311.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Ho, GYF., Bierman, R., Beardsley, L., Chang, CJ., Burk, RD. Natural history of cervicovaginal papillomavirus infection in young women. N Engl J Med 1998; 338:423-428.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Evander, M., Edlund, K., Gustafsson, A., et al. Human papillomavirus infection is transient in young women: a population-based cohort study. J Infect Dis 1995; 171:1026-1030.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Hildesheim, A., Schiffman, MH., Gravitt, PE., et al. Persistence of type-specific human papillomavirus infection among cytologically normal women. J Infect Dis 1994; 169:235-240.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Brisson, J., Bairati, I., Morin, C., et al. Determinants of persistent detection of human papillomavirus DNA in the uterine cervix. J Infect Dis 1996; 173:794-799.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Herrero, R. Epidemiology of cervical cancer. Monograph Natl Cancer Inst 1996; 21:1-6.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Vail-Smith, K., White, DM. Risk level, knowledge, and preventive behavior for human papillomaviruses among sexually active college women. College Health 1992; 40:227-230.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    International survey reveals lack of knowledge about STDs. STD News 1995; 3:1.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Braun, L., Hall, WS. Pathogenesis of human papillomavirus infection of the genitals. Med & Health/RI 1997; 80:326-330.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Pill, R. and Stott, NCH. Concepts of illness causation and responsibility: Some preliminary data from a sample of working class mothers. Soc Sci & Med 1982; 16:43-52.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Fowler, FJ. Survey Research Methods. Beverly Hills: Sage Publications; 1980.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Sawyer, RG., Moss, DJ. Sexually transmitted diseases in college men: a preliminary clinical investigation. College Health 1993; 42:111-115.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Bosch, FX., Castellsague, X., Munoz, N., et al. Male sexual behavior and human papillomavirus DNA: key risk factors for cervical cancer in Spain. J Natl Cancer Inst 1997; 88:1060-1070.Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Dunn, PC., Knight, SM., Glascoff, MA. Gender-specific changes in students' sexual behaviors and attitudes at a southeastern university between 1973 and 1988. College Health 1992; 41:99-104.Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    Graham, H. Caring: A Labor of Love. In J. Finch and D. Groves (Eds). A Labor of Love: Women, Work and Caring. London: Routledge, 1983, p. 13-30.Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    Kiviat, NB., Koutsky, LA. Do our current cervical cancer control strategies still make sense? J Natl Cancer Inst 1996; 88:317-318.Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    Woodruff, JD., Braun, L., Cavalieri, R., Gupta, P., Pass, F., Shah, KV. Immunological identification of papillomavirus antigen in condyloma tissue from the female genital tract. Obstetr Gynecol 1980; 56:727-732.Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    Morin, L., Braun, L., Casas-Cordero, M., et al. Confirmation of the papillomavirus etiology of the condylomatous lesions of the cervix by the peroxidase-antiperoxidase technique. J Natl Cancer Instit 1981; 66:831-835.Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    Verndon, MC. Issues in the management of human papillomavirus genital disease. AmFam Physician 1997; 55:1813-1822.Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    Odets, W. AIDS education and harm reduction for gay men: Psychological approaches for the 21st century. AIDS and Public Policy Journal 1994; 9:3-15.Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    Patton, C. Fatal Advice: How Safe-sex Education Went Wrong. Durham: Duke University Press, 1996.Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    Michelle, F. Sexuality, schooling, and adolescent females: The missing discourse of desire. Harvard Educational Review 1988; 58:29-53.Google Scholar
  29. 29.
    Michael, RT., Wadsworth, J., Feinleib, J., Johnson, AM., Laumann, EO., Wellings, K. Private sexual behavior, public opinion, and public health policy related to sexually transmitted diseases: A USBritish comparison. Am J Public Health 1998; 88:749-754.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Human Sciences Press, Inc. 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • Heather Baer
    • 1
  • Susan Allen
    • 2
  • Lundy Braun
    • 3
  1. 1.Brown UniversityUSA
  2. 2.Department of Community HealthBrown UniversityUsa
  3. 3.Department of Pathology and Laboratory MedicineBrown UniversityProvidence

Personalised recommendations