What is HPV? – Dec. 4, 2020

What is HPV? According to the CDC, HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI). Most people who are sexually active will contract some form of HPV in their lifetime, even if they only have a few sexual partners. There are different kinds of HPV—most varieties will not cause any health issues, however some HPV infections can lead to the development of genital warts and even cancer.

What is HPV?

HPV stands for human papillomavirus. There are over 100 varieties of HPV. The virus is transferred from person to person primarily through sexual contact. HPV infection may cause contagious warts on the skin or mucous membranes. 

What are the symptoms?

Usually an HPV infection does not cause any symptoms. This is why HPV infections can be so dangerous—you may be spreading it to your partners without realizing it. However, some types of HPV infections do cause warts. When warts do show up, they vary in appearance, depending on which kind of HPV is causing the infection. Both men and women can have warts from an HPV infection, although women are more susceptible to complications. 

Genital warts may look like small, flat lesions, or they may appear as cauliflower-shaped bumps. They aren’t usually painful, but they may itch or be tender. Warts may also occur on the mouth, or almost anywhere else on the body, though genital warts are most common. 

How long does an HPV infection last?

HPV infections can last as long as 24 months before your immune system fights off the infection. Most people do not know they are infected during this period, which is why it is difficult to stop transmission of the virus.

Does HPV cause cancer? 

Most HPV infections don’t cause cancer. However, some types of HPV can cause cervical cancer. Other types of cancers, such as cancers of the anus, penis, vagina, vulva and back of the throat (oropharyngeal), have also been associated with HPV infection. Vaccination is the best way to prevent cancer.

Nearly all cases of cervical cancer are caused by HPV infections, but it may take up to 20 years or longer to present after an HPV infection. The HPV infection and early cervical cancer typically don’t cause noticeable symptoms so it’s important that women have regular Pap tests. The current guidelines for Pap smears are:

  • Women ages 21 to 29—every three years
  • Women ages 30 to 65—every three years, or every five years if the Pap is done with an HPV DNA test 
  • Women over 65—can stop testing after three normal Pap tests in a row, or two HPV DNA and Pap tests with normal results

What is the HPV vaccine?

Known as Gardasil 9, the HPV vaccine protects against certain kinds of HPV that can cause cervical cancer or genital warts, and other cancers of the anus, vulva/vagina, penis, or throat. The HPV vaccine is given as a series of injections. Who should get the HPV vaccine? 

Everyone, from the ages of 9-45, including men and women can get vaccinated to help prevent the spread of HPV infection. 

  • Ages 9-14: a series of 2 shots, 6 months apart
  • Ages 15-45: a series of 3 shots over 6 months. The second shot is administered 2 months after the first, and the third shot, 4 months after the second one

STD Testing in Sacramento

Your sexual health is an important part of your overall health. One Community Health offers comprehensive STD testing services, vaccination, and education to help you reduce your and your partners’ risk. Call 916-443-3299 to get tested and/or vaccinated, regardless of your ability to pay.

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

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