The most common sexually transmitted infections among Americans is known as human papilloma virus (HPV). It is important to note that some health issues associated with HPV are preventable by vaccine.
Basic Information About HPV
HPV holds the title as the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the U.S. There are many different types of HPV spread among the estimated 79 million people in the U.S. who have the infection. Keep in mind that HPV is not the same as HIV or HSV viruses.
Certain types of HPV can cause health problems, most notably, genital warts and cancer. HPV vaccines can prevent these problems.
Research shows that people from late teens to early 20s are the most likely to be infected.
The Spreading Of HPV
Any sexual contact with a person that carries the virus creates an opportunity to spread HPV. The interaction is not limited to vaginal and anal intercourse. Oral sex can also spread the virus spread. Essentially, all it takes to be vulnerable to HPV is to be sexually active.
Even in cases where the person carrying the virus does not show any signs or symptoms, HPV can still be passed on, and it only requires sex with a single individual. As symptoms for HPV can take years to develop, tracking exactly when the virus was contracted may be challenging.
Possible Health Problems From HPV?
In general, the virus will naturally go away and not cause any health problems. But there are certain situations when HPV causes more significant issues like genital warts and cancer.
Genital warts usually appear as a single or group of bumps in the area of the genitals. These bumps can also be large or small, flat or raised, or shaped like a cauliflower. A healthcare provider can often diagnose warts with an examination.
Can HPV Lead To Cancer?
Unfortunately, HPV can cause various types of cancer. The areas where HPV can cause cancer include:
– Back of throat/base of tongue and tonsils.
Cancer caused by HPV will often take years to develop. In certain instances, cancer development from HPV can take decades. However, the types of HPV that lead to genital warts are not the same types of HPV that can cause cancer.
There is no way to predict which people who get HPV are going to develop cancer or other health issues, or even if any reaction is to be expected. Individuals with weaker or compromised immune systems, such as those fighting HIV/AIDS, have a higher risk of developing problems due to HPV.
Can You Lower The Risk Of An HPV Infection?
By using preventative measures instead of treatment, you can lower the risk by several means. Here are some suggestions:
Getting vaccinated against the HPV virus is safe and effective, especially when done at the recommended age. According to the CDC, it is best to receive the vaccination around 11 or 12 years of age. Alternatively, vaccination for HPV can be administered for children as young as nine and is recommended for everyone through the age of 26. More information about the vaccination process and benefits can be found at https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vpd/hpv/public/index.html.
– Regular Screening
Regular screening for cervical cancer is recommended for women between the ages of 21 and 65.
– Use Condoms
Using condoms properly can lower your chances of getting HPV. But areas not covered by a condom may be vulnerable to infection.
– Stick To One Sexual Partner
It helps to be in a relationship where you only have sexual intercourse with your partner (and vice versa).
Who Should Get Vaccinated For HPV?
Vaccination is not recommended for adults older than 26. It is best to speak with your healthcare provider before getting vaccinated. Given the long-term exposure to HPV already, you want to get clarity about how vaccination may help.
The truth is that you expose yourself to a new HPV risk every time you have new sexual partners.
How Can I Tell If I Have HPV?
Medical research and technology have yet to create a test to determine HPV status. Nor is there a test to find HPV in the mouth or throat. The truth is most people only realize HPV is a problem when other health issues surface.
There are, however, HPV tests to screen for cervical cancer. These tests are only recommended for women ages 30 and older. HPV tests are not recommended for children, men, or women younger than 30.
Most people who have HPV do not know they are infected and never develop symptoms or health problems from it. Some find out when they get genital warts. Women may find out they have HPV when they get an abnormal Pap test result (during cervical cancer screening). Still others may only find out once they’ve developed more serious problems from HPV, such as cancers.
How Common Is HPV Really?
To give you a good idea of how common HPV really is, consider that, on average, 14 million people are newly infected every year. Almost every sexually active person will get the virus at some point if they have not already been vaccinated.
Health Problem Statistics Related To HPV
– Genital Warts:
The rough estimation of men and women suffering from HPV caused genital warts before the vaccination option was between 340,000 and 360,000 per year. It is also interesting to note that one in about every 100 sexually active adults has genital warts at any given time.
– Cervical Cancer:
An estimated 12,000 American women are diagnosed with cervical cancer on an annual basis. A sadder statistic is that 4,000 of these women will die due to cervical cancer.
– Other Health Issues:
HPV is not limited to genital warts and cervical cancer, as established earlier. Findings show that an average of 19,400 women (along with 12,100 men) are affected every year by cancer caused by HPV.
How Does HPV Affect Pregnancy?
While pregnant, general risks include genital warts and abnormal cell changes on your cervix. The latter can be detected via regular cervical cancer screening tests. It is recommended to get these routine checks even if you are pregnant.
Is There Treatment For HPV?
Unfortunately, there is no cure or treatment for HPV itself. But treatments are available for the health problems created by the virus. For instance, genital warts can be addressed with medication from your healthcare provider. Cervical precancer is treatable if caught early on; women who have regular Pap tests and follow up can identify problems before cancer develops. Early diagnosis and treatment will aid in fighting other HPV related cancers. You can get more insight at www.cancer.org.
Where can I get more information?
Cervical Cancer Screening
CDC’s National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program
STD information and referrals to STD Clinics
In English, en Español
CDC National Prevention Information Network (NPIN)
P.O. Box 6003
Rockville, MD 20849-6003
National HPV and Cervical Cancer Prevention Resource Center American Sexual Health Association (ASHA)external icon
P. O. Box 13827
Research Triangle Park, NC
Content source: Division of STD Prevention, National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and T.B. Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention