- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 24, 2003

Two Republican representatives, one in office and one retired, have demanded an investigation into the federal government’s handling of a 3-year-old law aimed at educating the public about a sexually transmitted disease that can lead to cancer.

At issue is whether the government should promote condoms as a way to stop the spread of human papillomavirus (HPV), even though researchers say there’s no proof that condoms work against the disease, say Republicans Rep. Mark E. Souder of Indiana and former Rep. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma.

The Food and Drug Administration, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention aren’t properly implementing the HPV education law, Mr. Sounder and Dr. Coburn said in separate letters this month to Dara Corrigan, acting principal deputy inspector general at the Department of Health and Human Services.

Mr. Souder, chairman of the House Government Reform subcommittee on criminal justice, drug policy and human resources, and Dr. Coburn asked Miss Corrigan to investigate the matter and ensure that public materials and condom labels are medically accurate.

A spokesman for the Inspector General’s Office said Friday that the office has the letters and that the matter had been assigned to an inspector.

HPV is an incurable sexually transmitted disease that can be spread from skin-to-skin contact. It infects an estimated 20 million people and causes 5.5 million infections each year.

Most strains of HPV have benign symptoms, such as genital warts, that are treatable or resolve themselves. Some strains of HPV, however, are linked to cervical cancer, rectal cancer and cancer of the penis.

The seriousness of this epidemic prompted Congress to pass a law in 2000 calling for public education about HPV.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says on its Web site that “abstinence is the most effective strategy to prevent HPV infection.”

It also advises readers to “be aware that condoms can reduce, but do not eliminate, the risk for transmission to uninfected partners” and urges sexually active women to get regular Pap smears. Another fact sheet says condoms are associated with a “reduced risk” of HPV-associated diseases.

But this is not what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and three other agencies concluded in their July 2001 report, “Scientific Evidence on Condom Effectiveness for STD Prevention,” Dr. Coburn said in his letter to Miss Corrigan.

A panel of experts “concluded that there was no epidemiological evidence that condom use reduced the risk of HPV infection,” Dr. Coburn wrote.

The HPV epidemic is growing “because people continue to deny the fact that condoms aren’t effective in reducing it,” he said in a recent telephone interview. “You can have 100 percent condom use in this country and you would still have HPV.”

Deborah Arrindell of the American Social Health Association, which studies sexually transmitted diseases, said that abstinence or sexual monogamy is the “best way” to avoid disease.

“However, we strongly urge those who are sexually active to use condoms consistently and correctly” because they offer “excellent protection” against other STDS, she said.

Scientists may be close to creating an HPV vaccine, said Dr. J. Thomas Cox, who studies HPV at the University of California, Santa Barbara. If members of Congress “have hard evidence that money is being spent unwisely, then they have the right to pursue it,” he said. “If not, I think that they ought to let the CDC do what they do best,” which is pursue advancements in science and medicine.

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