Updated: Jan 23
What is HPV?
When we say common, we mean REALLY common.
About 14 million Americans are diagnosed with HPV each year, while 79 million Americans already have HPV. Most new HPV cases are in their late teens and early 20s. It is so common that virtually everyone who doesn’t get the HPV vaccination will contract some form of HPV at some point in their life if they are sexually active.
Herpes is not treatable.
Unfortunately, HPV does not have a cure, but there are treatments to help with the health problems HPV brings with it.
How is HPV spread?
HPV is spread through oral, vaginal, and anal sex with someone who has the virus. However, it most commonly spread through anal and vaginal sex. It can still be spread even if the carrier has no signs or symptoms of HPV. It can take years for symptoms to show up after you’ve had intercourse with a carrier, which can make it hard for people to know who they’ve contracted it from. Anyone who is sexually active can contract HPV, even if they’ve only been with one person.
What are the symptoms?
High-risk HPV does not have symptoms, and by the time you know you’ll most likely already have gotten some sort of serious health condition or cancer. High-risk HPV can cause normal cells to be abnormal and cause various cancers. It mostly attacks normal cells in the cervix, vagina, penis, vulva, anus, mouth, and throat. Luckily, it usually takes years for cancer to form and possible cervical cancer can be picked up in tests before it becomes untreatable.
Low-risk HPV causes genital warts. Unfortunately, you cannot treat them yourself and they can be tricky to spot. They can often be mistaken for any bumpy skin issue. They are also known to sometimes cause discomfort and irritation where they form, which can be on or in the genitalia, mouth, and anus. Fortunately, they aren’t dangerous and can’t cause cancer, and they can be treated and removed like regular warts you might get on your feet and hands.
How does testing work?
There is no test to find out if you have HPV.
There’s no testing to know if you have HPV, let alone an approved HPV test to see if you have it in the mouth or throat. Most people with HPV don’t know and don’t experience health problems or symptoms. However, some people may discover they have HPV by contracting genital warts or developing certain cancers.
While there are HPV test screenings for cervical cancer, they are only for women aged 30 years or older. They are not recommended for men, adolescents, or women under 30. Women may also find out they have HPV when they receive an abnormal pap smear.
What if I have it?
The first thing to remember is that this is nothing to be ashamed of. Like we said earlier, this is a very common infection. If you or your partner have HPV, it does not necessarily mean anyone cheated. Many people go years before finding out they have HPV.
How do I get rid of it?
Unfortunately, you cannot be treated for the virus itself, but there are treatments for the health problems that it can cause. Genital warts can be treated by your healthcare provider or with prescription medicine. If they are left untreated, they can go away with time, but can also persist or even grow in size or number. Cervical pre-cancer can also be treated. Women who get regular Pap tests and follow up as needed can identify problems before they can develop cancer. Other HPV-related cancers, like oral cancer, are also more treatable when diagnosed and treated early before it has the chance to get worse.
How do I prevent HPV?
You can prevent HPV by getting the HPV vaccine. It is safe and effective, and it can also protect against diseases, such as some cancers, that are caused by HPV. It is recommended to get this vaccine at ages 11 or 12 and up until 26 if you haven't been vaccinated already.
If you are sexually active, use latex condoms every time you have sex. It can lower your chances of getting HPV, but not entirely. You can still contract HPV from areas that are not covered by a condom. You should also be in a mutually monogamous relationship, or only have sex with someone who only has sex with you.