What HPV is:
It is the most common sexually transmitted disease. It is very easy to get, hard to diagnose, and hard to treat. Both women and men can get it. There are six million new cases in the U.S. each year. The CDC says “at least 50% of sexually active people will have HPV at some point in their lives.”
There are about one hundred different types (strains) of the HPV virus.
High-risk HPV types can cause cervical cancer in women, and other kinds of cancer in men or women.
Low-risk HPV types can cause genital warts and low-grade cervical cell changes that are not associated with cervical cancer.
All types of HPV are incurable. But not all HPV causes cancer.
Symptoms and treatment of HPV:
Most people who have HPV don’t know it because many times there are no symptoms or symptoms that are easily noticeable.
For some people, HPV warts will grow on (or inside) the genital area or anus, or on the thigh. These warts can be very tiny or can grow into large clusters. They may be itchy or painful or irritating.
There is no cure for it, only treatments of the symptoms of HPV. Warts are treated by freezing, burning, laser removal, drugs or surgery-all of which have the potential to be quite stressful or uncomfortable.
HPV warts can grow back even after they have been removed because the virus is still present in the body.
Other problems that HPV can cause:
Occasionally, HPV in a pregnant woman can be passed on to the baby during the delivery. The baby may develop warts in the throat or voice box.
How can HPV be passed on to me?
HPV can be passed on even if the infected person has no symptoms.
It can be passed on by any kind of sexual contact-vaginal sex, anal sex, or oral sex.
It can be passed on by skin to skin contact (touching the infected skin) of someone who has it.
How can I avoid HPV?
The ideal situation for avoiding HPV is to not have sex until marriage and marry someone who is free from HPV and who is committed to being faithful to you.
(Never having sex would also work, but it is not necessary if a person chooses abstinence before marriage and faithfulness in marriage.)
Condoms have limited effectiveness in preventing the spread of HPV because it can easily be passed through skin to skin contact in areas not covered by the condom.
What about the HPV vaccination?
The U.S. FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has approved a vaccine for females that protects against 2 types of HPV that cause 70% of all cervical cancers and 2 types of HPV that cause 90% of all genital warts.
The other types of HPV will not be prevented by use of the vaccine. (This means about 30% or cervical cancers and 10% of genital warts will not be prevented by the vaccine.) Routine PAP tests are therefore still recommended.
Females ages 11 or 12 are recommended to get the vaccine, to be most effective, although older girls and women up to 26 can be given it as well.
This vaccine does not treat existing HPV infections. And it has not yet been determined how long the vaccine will provide protection against HPV.
How do I know if I have HPV?
Women can have regular PAP tests to screen for cervical cancer. Sometimes a doctor will order an HPV test as well.
Men should see a doctor if warts are discovered.
See a doctor if you are concerned that you may have HPV. A person can have HPV even if warts are not present. However, if a person has chosen to wait until marriage for sex and stays faithful in marriage, that person can feel a high level of confidence that HPV is not present.
What do I do if I have HPV?
Tell your current and past sexual partners.
Since having an incurable STI can create feelings of anxiety, embarrassment, and depression, talking to a professional counselor may help some people.
Choose to stop being sexually active to avoid infecting others.
Honestly and carefully share your health information with a future possible marriage partner. This conversation will not be an easy one. But it is important to building a trusting, healthy relationship. Yes, that person may decide to end the relationship. But, that person may also decide to marry you, in spite of the health risk. Ultimately, it is right for that person to be given the information and the opportunity to choose.