The Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is a virus that can affect the skin and mucous membranes. If it goes untreated, HPV can lead to cervical cancer, a potentially deadly form of cancer.
There are over 100 different strains of HPV and due to this diversity, there are many misconceptions and questions regarding HPV.
Here are some basics that you should know:
Q: What is HPV?
A: HPV is a virus spread by skin contact and can affect the skin as well as the mucous membranes. It can become serious and deadly if it turns into cervical cancer and HPV is the most common cause of the disease. But, not all HPV strains are cancerous (only 30 of the 100 are).
According to the CDC, 80 million Americans are currently affected by HPV. It’s important to remember that HPV is not a disease, but a virus. In most cases of HPV, the body suppresses the virus and no symptoms or side-effects occur.
Q: How does HPV spread?
A: HPV spreads in a variety of different ways, depending on the kind of HPV. Some strains of HPV spread from skin to skin contact or by sharing a towel with someone who has warts possibly caused by HPV.
Other ways to contract HPV are through sexual contact of any kind and in rare cases HPV can be passed down from mother to child.
Q: What are some symptoms of HPV?
A: Most individuals with HPV don’t even realize they’re infected. Sometimes it can take years for symptoms to show, if ever. This can be problematic if HPV is spread by individuals who are sexually active and don’t realize they carry the virus.
There are usually no symptoms of HPV and high-risk cases of HPV can only be detected through a pelvic exam. The virus can also cause cervical cancer which can include symptoms such as unusual vaginal bleeding, lower back pain, pain during urination, and pain during sex.
In some other cases of HPV, genital warts can form and can be treated. Genital warts are caused by low-risk varieties of HPV.
Q: Is there a vaccine?
A: Yes. This vaccine is recommended for everyone to reduce HPV infections.
The recommended ages to receive the HPV vaccine is between 11-21. Currently, catch-up vaccines are available for women up to the age of 26 and men to the age of 21. The HPV vaccine is a series of three shots and they are available at all Passport Health locations. For more information on the immunization itself, visit our page for the HPV Vaccine.
Q: How can you protect yourself from getting HPV?
A: According to the National Cancer Institute, the HPV vaccine is 97 percent effective. Other ways to help protect yourself include using condoms during sex, don’t smoke, and taking a multivitamin (specifically vitamin B).
Q: How is HPV treated?
A: HPV cannot be initially treated through antibiotics. Usually the body treats itself and no symptoms occur.
Although, in cases where symptoms and effects such as warts and cervical cancer occur, treatment is available.
Gels, creams, and lasers can be used to treat genital warts. If precancerous cells are detected in the cervix, they can be removed. But, if the cells have escalated into cervical cancer, hysterectomy and chemotherapy treatments are necessary.
Written for Passport Health by Kaitlyn Luckow. Kaitlyn is a freelance writer, photographer and English teacher in Milwaukee. She has a passion for capturing and writing other people’s stories. You can find her at sayhellostory.com.