MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The methods used to teach teens about sexually transmitted infections (STI) could have a real impact on the amount of information retained, suggests a study led by Maria Merzouk, D.O., an obstetrician and gynecologist for WVU Healthcare and assistant professor in the WVU School of Medicine.

West Virginia’s cervical cancer incidence rate is among the highest in the nation, though it is one of the easiest female cancers to prevent, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is known to cause certain types of the cancer, and safer sex practices can help prevent the spread of HPV.

In Dr. Merzouk’s study, more than 600 high school freshmen completed a written test to measure their knowledge about HPV. The students were divided into two groups: one group attended health class with their regular curriculum about STI; the other group viewed an educational DVD about HPV in combination with their regular curriculum. The DVD addressed three main topics, including the virus itself, its symptoms and the actions required for treating it.

Both groups of students were tested again to assess whether viewing the audiovisual presentation made an impact on HPV knowledge. Merzouk found a significant improvement in the test scores of those students who watched the presentation.

“Scores on the post-test improved by 7 percent for those students,” said Merzouk. “The students were aware that their performance wouldn’t influence their class grade. Students may be more engaged if they knew their grades were at stake, so there could be even greater potential here.”

Promoting an understanding of the testing process is also critical. Though there is no existing HPV test for men, the virus is detected in women through a test similar to a Pap smear.

“I feel the lack of awareness about the virus’ relationship with cervical cancer and detection methods may be part of the reason for West Virginia’s increased rate of cervical cancer cases,” said Merzouk. “Lack of access to healthcare also contributes to the problem.”

Both Merzouk and Pam Courtney, N.P., advanced nurse practitioner and co-investigator in the study, would like to see the DVD become available for classroom use across the state.

“By improving teens’ knowledge of HPV, they can make better choices for safe sex and have a better understanding about how we screen for this virus,” Courtney, clinical assistant professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, said.

The study, “Knowledge of HPV in West Virginia High School Health Students and the Effects of an Educational Tool,” appears online at Journal of Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology.

For more information: Amy Johns, HSC News Service, 304-293-7087
lal: 05-17-11