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Human papilloma virus not new, not discovered in Africa – and Koswara’s condition inherited

A photo shared widely on Facebook in Nigeria and Kenya in October 2019 shows a man with lesions all over his body and badly disfigured hands and feet.

The caption reads: “Another sexually transmitted disease STD worse than AID HIV is here. HUMAN PAPILLOMA VIRUS.(H.P.V). This picture you see is a new virus discovered in African called Human Papilloma Virus (H.P.V). Which is worst than (H.I.V). One could be infected with the virus through sex; even with the use of Condom because condom can do 60% in terms of protection. Therefore, be careful and forward it to everyone you care for. May God protect us always. Amen.”

Suspiciously, the wording is almost exactly the same as a meme debunked by Africa Check in June 2019. This one shows a photo of smallpox lesions with the claim they are symptoms of the human papilloma virus (HPV).

The photo in the October 2019 Facebook post is of an Indonesian man, Dede Koswara, known as the “tree man of Java”.  Much of his body was covered in growths that looked like tree bark. 

What is the human papilloma virus?

HPV refers to a group of over 100 types of viruses that are extremely common globally. HPV is dormant in most people, causing no problems. But some types can cause genital warts or cancer.

A US researcher, Richard Shope, identified the papilloma virus as a disease in the 1930s through experiments on rabbits.

The human papilloma virus was first discovered in 1956 by scientists in the US – not “in Africa” – who drew on Shope’s work.

HPV is transmitted by vaginal, anal, or oral sex with an infected person, whether or not the person shows signs or symptoms. The risk of infection may be reduced by using condoms, correctly, whenever you have sex.

Koswara’s case one of only 500

Koswara suffered from an extremely rare genetic skin disorder, epidermodysplasia verruciformis, also known as tree-man disease. The disorder is inherited. It predisposes patients to uncontrolled HPV infection.

This can result in rapid growth of scaly warts that look like tree bark. There have been only about 500 documented cases of the disorder globally.

Koswara died in January 2016, reportedly because of a variety of health problems.

So while the photo is associated with HPV, the symptoms it shows only develop if you’re one of the few people in the world who have inherited the epidermodysplasia verruciformis disorder.

And HPV is not “new”, nor was it “discovered in Africa”. Allwell Okpi 

Further reading:

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