With the relatively recent release and aggressive marketing of HPV vaccines like Gardasil, the human papillomavirus (HPV) has received substantial media attention. Despite an increased awareness of HPV, especially following recent states' debates over mandating vaccines for school-age girls and boys, how much do we really know about HPV and its risks? Here's the run down.
1. HPV is a very common virus that is usually sexually transmitted.
The human papillomavirus typically gets passed on by genital or anal contact, but it can also, in rare cases, be passed on by oral contact as well. It's estimated that over fifty percent of sexually active men and women will be infected by HPV at some point in their lives.
2. HPV is typically harmless, and those infected may never know they have it.
HPV is not considered a classic STD the way that syphilis or herpes is. Hardly anyone who becomes infected will experience any symptoms. Some may have visible genital warts, or in extremely rare cases, warts in the throat. These can be removed by a medical professional. In 90% of HPV cases, the immune system will clear the virus on its own within two years.
3. It's especially important for women to get regular pap smears.
Even though most strains of HPV do not present any serious problems, there are “high-risk” strains that can cause cervical cancer in women. These can be detected following a routine pap smear. If your doctor finds atypical cells during a pap smear, she may run an HPV test. Detecting cell changes caused by HPV early will enable your doctor to monitor and treat these cell changes so that they do not become cancer. Cervical cancer is difficult to treat in advanced stages, which is why it is extremely important for women to get regular pap smears.
4. There is no cure for HPV, but it usually goes away on its own.
The human papillomavirus is not curable, but, as mentioned the complications that it causes, like cancer and warts, are treatable. At the same time, even though there is no cure, it can be prevented with vaccines (if administered before the age of 26). As noted above, HPV usually cures itself.
5. Complete abstinence is the only sure way to prevent HPV.
Using condoms throughout intercourse is perhaps the best way to prevent HPV, although HPV can still be passed on even with the use of protection, since condoms do not cover all contact areas. Other ways of lessening the chances of being infected with HPV include being in faithful relationships, limiting the number of sexual partners, and being with a partner who has had few or no past sexual experiences. Still, however, even using these precautions will not necessarily prevent HPV. The only surefire way of preventing HPV is complete abstinence.
If you notice some symptoms of HPV, or if you found out after a pap smear test that you have HPV, do not panic. As long as you follow up with your doctor, you should have nothing to worry about. For more information about HPV, visit this CDC webpage.