How did I get HPV?

HPV (Human Papillomavirus) is the most common STI (Sexually Transmitted Infection).  About 50% of sexually active adults will become infected with genital HPV in their lifetime.  About 20 million Americans currently have HPV and 6 million become infected every year.  The good news is that 90% of the time it will clear itself out of the body on its own within 2 years.

It is so common because it can spread even if you use a condom.  There are 40 different types of genital HPV that affect male and female genital area’s and these also can affect the mouth and throat due to oral sex.  It is also very common because most people don’t develop any symptoms and pass it on without knowing it.  It can also develop months after you had sex within an infected person so you may not be able to know who gave it to you.

Common signs and symptoms include:

Genital warts usually appear as a small bump or group of bumps in the genital area.  The bumps can be raised or flat, small or large or shaped like cauliflower.  This type of HPV can be diagnosed by sight in a doctor’s office.  Genital warts do not cause cancer.  They can be removed with medications given by a physician.   About 1% of sexually active adults has genital warts at any one time.

Cervical Cancer can develop if the HPV isn’t treated and does not clear on its own.  Cervical cancer does not have symptoms until it is quite advanced.  It is usually diagnosed by receiving an abnormal pap smear.  HPV changes the cells in the cervix from normal to abnormal.  A doctor can then treat the abnormal cells to prevent them from changing into cancer over time.  Each year, about 12,000 women get cervical cancer.

Other cancers  can be caused by HPV.  Every year in the U.S.  3,700 women develop vulvar cancer, 1,000 women develop vaginal cancer, 1,000 men develop penile cancer, 2,700 women and 1,700 men develop anal cancer.  About 2,300 women and 9,000 men develop head and neck cancers, although only a minor number of these cases are caused by HPV.  Most head and neck cancers are caused by smoking and heavy drinking.

HPV does have a vaccine that teenagers and young adults can get.  The vaccine protects against two major strains that cause genital warts and two major strains that cause cervical cancer in women.  For men, it protects against two major strains that cause genital warts.

Other ways you can lower your risk of getting HPV is to use condoms every single time you have sex.  Although condoms don’t protect you 100%, they dramatically lower your risk overall.  You can also lower your risk by being in a faithful, monogamous relationship.  Having multiple sexual partners dramatically increases your risk of becoming infected.  The only way to to prevent HPV 100% is to abstain from all sexual activity.

Information in this blog was obtained from the CDC website.  Please see the link below for more information.

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