Observations Yankee Doodling

Television shows and education about sexually transmitted infections: no laughing matter

BMJ 2012; 344 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.e3614 (Published 23 May 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e3614
  1. Douglas Kamerow, chief scientist, RTI International, and associate editor, BMJ
  1. dkamerow{at}rti.org

Should we be concerned about medical misinformation on the HBO cable television network?

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is tough to figure out. Is it a disease or just an infection? We can’t really treat it, only its sequelae. With more than half of sexually active people infected with it at one time or another, it is common, but 90% of those who get it then clear the infection without treatment.1 Yet for some people the consequences of HPV are serious: genital warts and (for women) cervical cancer. Should we screen for HPV, and if so what do we do when we find it? Most importantly, how do we explain all of this concisely to patients?

One way not to do it is through a television comedy. Case in point: Girls, the new hit show on the US Home Box Office (HBO) cable television network, soon to appear worldwide. It is the story of four young women just after university, as they try to make their way in New York. Billed as a “comic look at the assorted humiliations and rare triumphs of a group of girls …

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