You probably learned in your high school sex ed class that HPV–human papillomavirus– is a sexually transmitted infection (STI). But what else do you know about HPV?
Did you know that over half of all sexually active men and women will have genital HPV at some point in their life? Do you know what the HPV vaccine protects against and who should get it? If not, read on to learn more about this very common infection, its treatment, and prevention.
HPV, genital HPV, low-risk and high-risk HPV are several terms that you might hear regarding the virus. Here's how they differ:
Over the course of a lifetime, most people will become infected with some strain of HPV. Most infections do not cause symptoms and go away unnoticed, though sometimes they may cause warts on the skin called pappilomas. Strands can infect the hands, feet or face, while others infect the genitals.
There are two types of genital HPV-- low and high risk:
Genital HPV is spread through skin-to-skin sexual contact, most often through vaginal and anal sex. The body's immune system usually fights off HPV within two years, but fighting off the virus doesn't promise future immunity. You can in fact be infected more than once.
Using condoms reduces the rate of the infection, but because the virus can be spread merely from intimate skin contact, condoms do not fully prevent HPV.
If you have genital warts, you should not treat them on your own but contact your GYN or well woman physician. Your gynecologist in Gainesville or Lake City may recommend one of the following courses of treatment depending on how bothersome the warts are:
The most dangerous potential complication of HPV is cervical cancer caused by high-risk HPV strains. For sexually active women, the best way to beat this cancer is to detect it early through regular Pap smears and HPV testing. For adolescents who are not yet sexually active, the HPV vaccine offers the best protection against cervical cancer.
After the age of thirty, women can get a Pap smear and an HPV test. The HPV test is done at the same time as the Pap smear and detects the virus that can cause the abnormal cell changes that may lead to cervical cancer. If both tests come back negative, you will only need them again in three to five years.If you test positive for HPV, it doesn't mean that you have or will definitely get cervical cancer - it just means that you are at a higher risk.
HPV is very common - you shouldn't be ashamed if you think you might have this virus. Instead, schedule an appointment with the knowledgeable and compassionate team of gynecology physicians at All About Women, MD in Gainesville and Lake City.
Our physicians and well woman care providers are here to address your questions and concerns about HPV, other STIs, or your general health. We invite you to browse our women’s health learning center and blog to learn more today.