April 14, 2020
While awareness of HPV is increasing, and treatments are evolving, there’s still a lot of confusion about HPV in general. Don’t put yourself or your loved ones at risk. Get the lowdown on HPV with these 12 facts.
- The human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection with about 80 million cases in the US, and roughly 14 million new infected individuals each year.
- HPV is transmitted through skin-to-skin sexual contact, with vaginal and anal intercourse most associated with its transmission. Although less common, the virus can also be passed through any sexual activity involving unprotected contact, including oral sex.
- HPV is comprised of over 100 virus strains, some high-risk and associated with cervical cancer, anal cancer and oropharyngeal cancer. Other strains are low-risk, known to cause genital warts. Although the strains that cause genital warts do not cause cancer, people can be infected with multiple HPV types and should still consider themselves possibly exposed to other higher risk strains.
- Unlike other common STIs that are treatable with antibiotics and other medications, HPV is a virus. Because of this, it behaves differently and needs to be treated differently.
- HPV’s symptoms can be treated, but the virus itself is better thwarted with precautionary measures such as a vaccine and condoms. In a lot of cases, HPV will go away on its own, not causing or creating any health concerns. But for those whose HPV does not go away, health problems like genital warts and cancer are a real concern. Since there is no way to know which people will naturally eliminate their HPV and which will not, it is important to protect oneself.
- Cancers related to HPV are diagnosed in 17,000 women and 10,000 men. The vaccine can help to prevent cancers caused by HPV. But even with the vaccine, it is still important to be vigilant about cervical cancer screening.
- The vaccine works by fooling the immune system into creating antibodies strong enough to prevent an HPV infection, and stop the changes that can lead to HPV conditions such as genital warts or cancer. With a series of 3 vaccine injections, patients are guarded against 9 of the high-risk strains.
- While today’s vaccines can greatly reduce the risk of HPV in young men and women, they do not eliminate the virus in those already infected.
- The CDC recommends the vaccine be administered to girls and boys 11-12 years of age, before sexual activity begins. Females aged 13 to 26 who have not been previously vaccinated are also encouraged to receive the vaccine.
- With millions of vaccines given worldwide, and multiple safety studies, the most common side effect is pain and tenderness at the injection site.
- Most sexually active adults have already been exposed to HPV and will only become aware of their condition after an abnormal Pap smear or the development of symptoms associated with the virus. It is recommended that:
- Women aged 21 to 65 should have a Pap test and HPV test at least every 3 years.
- Women under 21 and over 65 do not need HPV screening but may be tested with an abnormal smear result.
- Although many may have HPV and never know it, there are some symptoms of HPV:
- Genetal warts
- Bleeding after intercourse
- Bleeding in between cycles
- An abnormal pap smear
- HPV can remain dormant for years with symptoms developing years after infection. It is possible for those in monogamous relationships to develop symptoms even if their partner was not infected.
Understanding HPV is an important step in the care of yourself and your loved ones. Contact Dr. Eric Heegaard to find out about HPV vaccines and get the guidance you deserve.