Know Your STDs: Human Papillomavirus (HPV)

There are many different sexually transmitted infections that you should be aware of, as knowledge is a crucial part of protecting your sexual health. If you know what signs to look for, you can catch issues earlier and take steps to protect yourself. Today, we’re going to look at a very common STD: Human papillomavirus, or HPV.

Facts and figures

HPV is the most common sexually transmitted virus in the U.S., and it is estimated that at least 50 percent of sexually active individuals will be infected with genital HPV at least once in their lives, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Currently, approximately 20 million people have HPV, and another 6 million become infected annually. There are more than 100 different types of HPV, at least 30 of which can potentially lead to cancer if left untreated, MedlinePlus reports. Only about 40 HPV strains can infect the genital area.

What it is and how it is spread

Genital human papillomavirus is a sexually transmitted infection that typically has no symptoms and will naturally be cleared out of the body within two years. Since there are no visible symptoms in 90 percent of cases, this can make HPV even more dangerous. Most people who have HPV may not even know it, making it easy for the virus to spread. HPV is passed through genital contact, during vaginal, anal and even oral sex. In some cases, an individual who sleeps with an infected person may not develop HPV until years later, as it may remain dormant for a long period in some people.

Symptoms

As mentioned earlier, there are often no symptoms of HPV. However, a small portion of infected individuals may develop genital warts that will not go away if left untreated, the CDC reports. Warts will usually appear within a few weeks of contact with an infected person. HPV can also lead to cervical cancer, which has no symptoms until it reaches the advanced stages. Other, less-common forms of cancer caused by HPV include cancer of the vagina, vulva, penis, anus and throat. Cases of this sexually transmitted infection that lead to serious health problems are considered to be “high-risk” and should be taken very seriously.

Diagnosis and prevention

When it comes to diagnosing HPV, the virus is usually detected in women as a result of an abnormal Pap smear. There is no testing method for men, as the virus very rarely causes any health issues in males. Most instances of HPV will go away on their own within 13 months for men and women, according to Planned Parenthood. Women can protect themselves against contracting some strains of HPV by getting vaccinations from their doctors. Using condoms can help prevent the skin-on-skin contact that may lead to the transmission of HPV.

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