What exactly is HPV?

May 18, 2021

Even though Human Papillomavirus is not talked about as much as we think it should be, HPV is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections, also known as an STI. HPV is different from herpes (HSV) and HIV. There are also multiple types of HPV. Some can cause genital warts, as well as cancers. However, there are vaccines that are readily available to help prevent HPV, and proper protection can also assist in preventing contraction of Human Papillomavirus.

HPV is spread in a variety of ways, and it’s important to be aware to stay safe.

Surprisingly, HPV can be spread fairly easily by having vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone who has the virus. The most common way to get Human Papillomavirus is by having unprotected anal or vaginal sex. Even if the infected person has no signs or symptoms, you can still get it from them. Since HPV does not always show symptoms right away, it’s pretty easy to get Human Papillomavirus from someone you are in a sexual relationship with. Basically, if you are sexually active, you can get Human Papillomavirus. Sometimes, the symptoms of HPV develop years after you are actually exposed, which means it can be hard to actually detect who you got it from and when you got infected. 

Human Papillomavirus can cause health problems later on. 

HPV can go away on its own, and in these cases does not typically cause any health problems. However, occasionally Human Papillomavirus does not go away, and this is when you often see genital warts or even cancer forming. Genital warts are usually a small bump or groups of bumps that are in the genital area. It is fairly easy for a medical professional to diagnose genital warts and treat them.

Can HPV cause cancer?

Yes, HPV can cause cervical cancer, which is the most common, but can also cause other cancers such as cancer of the vulva, vagina, penis, or anus. Human Papillomavirus can be found in men and women. Cancer in the throat such as oropharyngeal cancer, which can include cancer at the base of the tongue and tonsils. As it turns out, cancer can take years to develop after a person contracts Human Papillomavirus, and the kind of HPV that causes genital warts is not the same as the kind of Human Papillomavirus that causes cancer to form.

Unfortunately, there is no way to know which people who have HPV will develop cancer or warts. People with weaker immune systems will be a lot less able to fight off health problems from Human Papillomavirus, and more likely to develop more health problems. 

 

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What is the easiest way to avoid getting HPV? Human Papillomavirus Prevention

There are many things you can do that will lower your chances of contracting Human Papillomavirus. The first thing you can do is to get vaccinated! The HPV vaccine can also protect against the diseases that are caused by Human Papillomavirus. However, the vaccine is most effective when given within a certain age group. The CDC recommends vaccination beginning at ages 11/12, and through the age of 26 years.

Getting screened for cervical cancer from the ages of 21 to 65 can also help prevent cervical cancer and catch it early to help treat it. 

If you are sexually active, there are even more ways to protect yourself.

  • Proper use of latex condoms can lower your chances of contracting Human Papillomavirus – but remember that HPV can also infect areas not covered by condoms, so condoms do not provide full protection. 
  • Being in a monogamous relationship, or having one partner can also limit your exposure to Human Papillomavirus. 
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How can I find out that I have Human Papillomavirus? 

There is no approved test to find HPV in the throat and/or mouth. However, there are HPV tests that can screen you for cervical cancer. These tests are recommended for screening for women in ages 30 or older, though any woman can take this test. Talk to your doctor if you are under the age of 30 and would like to take this test. Human Papillomavirus tests aren’t recommended to screen men, kids, or women under age 30. Because of the lack of testing and inability to easily detect HPV, many people who are infected will not know until they develop symptoms or health problems from it. Some people don’t know they have Human Papillomavirus until they develop genital warts, or they develop cancer. 

So are these health problems and HPV really all that common?

The CDC estimated in 2018 that there were 43 million HPV infections, with 13 million of those being new cases. HPV is insanely common – so coming that pretty much every person who is sexually active will get HPV at some point during their lifetime. Unless, of course, they receive the vaccine. Since the most common symptoms are genital warts and cervical cancer, it’s important to note that the Human Papillomavirus vaccine can also prevent these. Cervical cancer kills more than 4000 women every year, even with screening and treatment, so if you can easily prevent it, you should. Keep in mind that Human Papillomavirus also causes other issues. 

HPV can affect your pregnancy, so it is important to see your doctor.

If you are pregnant and you have HPV, it’s important to have open communication with your physician to express your concerns and have cervical cancer screenings. 

How can I get treated for HPV or health problems I experience from HPV?

While there is not a treatment for HPV itself, there are treatments for the health issues HPV causes. 

Genital warts can be treated by your provider with medications, or go away on their own. Cervical cancer can be detected before it actually becomes cancer, simply by getting routine pap smears. You can also get treatment for cervical cancer itself. The other cancers that Human Papillomavirus can cause are usually able to be detected relatively early, and can be treated as well. Obviously, prevention is better than treatment. This is why we stress the importance of the Human Papillomavirus vaccine and early detection, along with consistent and effective protection during sexual activities

Remember, it’s important to use protection and take every precaution you can to prevent HPV. The safer you are, the safer your body is.

 

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