HPV: What You Need to Know

You are likely one of many who have heard of the human papilloma virus (HPV). The chances are that you also know that it can cause cervical cancer and that there is an HPV vaccination available – but what else do you know about it? How can you get HPV? Are there any early symptoms of HPV? What diseases are caused by HPV? Can I get the HPV vaccination if I already have HPV? Here are the answers to these questions and more.

What is HPV?
The human papilloma virus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI). Approximately 12,000 sexually active individuals ages 15 to 24 are infected with HPV every day. Eight out of 10 women will be infected with HPV at least once in their lifetime. There are about 30 types of HPV that can affect the genital area, but there are only four strains of HPV that cause the majority of diseases in women. HPV should not be confused with other sexually transmitted viruses, such as HIV or herpes, as HPV causes different health problems.

How do you get HPV?
HPV is passed through genital contact, but it can also be passed through oral sex. You don’t have to have sex in order to get HPV. You could have genital contact once with an infected person and receive the virus. Condoms may not fully protect you from HPV, because areas not covered by the condom may be infected.

A person could still have HPV even if it has been years after they were initially infected. Yet, there are many different types of HPV. In most cases, the body fights against the virus, and 70% of viral strains are eliminated within a year. Within two years, 90% of cases are eliminated. Women can be tested for HPV, however, there are currently no tests available to pinpoint the type that you have. Men cannot be tested for HPV.

Is there any symptoms of HPV?
Because it is a virus, there are no symptoms to know if you have HPV. The only way you can know is through testing.

Can I receive the HPV vaccination if I’ve already tested positive for HPV?
There are several different strains of HPV and only about four of those have been found to cause either cervical cancer or genital warts. Statistically, it is likely that if you have tested positive for HPV that the type you have is non-cancerous. In this case, you could still receive the HPV vaccination in order to prevent yourself from any potential exposure to these disease-causing strains. However, since there is no way to know what strain you have tested positive for, it may still not benefit you.

What diseases are linked to HPV?
The two most common diseases caused by HPV are genital warts and cervical cancer.

Genital warts can appear within weeks or months of sexual contact with an infected partner – even if the partner had no signs or symptoms. If left untreated, warts might go away, stay the same, or increase in number and size.

Cervical cancer doesn’t normally have any signs or symptoms until it has become advanced. For this reason, it is critical that women have regular pap tests.

There are additional diseases that are linked to HPV that are not as common. These include cancers of the vulva, vagina, anus, penis, and oropharynx (back of throat). It is also possible to develop RRP, which is condition that causes warts to grow in the throat.

Sources:
STD Facts – HPV
HPV Facts

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