HPV, the human papillomavirus, is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections (STI) throughout the world. In the United States, approximately 79 million people are currently infected with at least one type of HPV. If you have been/currently are/or are thinking about being sexually active, you might just want to read on.
Recently, I was talking with a friend about my experiences as a Planned Parenthood intern, and I was telling him about how uninformed I had been on STDs/STIs before interning there. I was sharing some not very appealing facts when it came to my attention that, while many know the basics about a lot of STDs/STIs, the specific details of these conditions are often overlooked. For instance, when I asked my friend if he knew about a certain STI, HPV, his response was, “sort of”.
Let me fill you in: HPV is an STI that most sexually-active men and women will be infected with during their lives. It tends to live on the skin. You can get infected with HPV through genital-to-genital contact (i.e. vaginal and/or anal sex) or through mouth-to-genital contact (i.e. oral sex). HPV can affect the genitals, throat and mouth. Recently, an epidemiologist named Marc Brisson from Laval University in Quebec hypothesized that kissing may even be a way to transfer HPV, but for now, transfer via kissing is just a theory.
Most people infected with HPV don’t even know it. This is because approximately ninety-percent of the time, HPV will actually go away by itself within two years of being infected before any notable health problems arise. There are over 100 types of HPV and only around twelve types are known to cause ‘serious issues.’ And yes, you can have more than one type at a time.
A lot of the types of HPV produce minimal symptoms or none at all, but others can cause some serious health issues. The big symptom that is often talked about is cervical cancer, which is cancer on a woman’s cervix, generally due to abnormal cell growth. HPV type 16 and 18 are generally responsible for cervical cancer, and it could take years for symptoms to present themselves. According to Centers for Disease Control, each year, approximately 4,000 women in the U.S. die due to cervical cancer. Other cancers from HPV that can occur in both sexes include genital cancers, and pharyngeal cancer. Genital warts can also be a symptom, as well as recurrent respiratory papillomatosis (RRP), where in which warts grow inside the throat. Additionally, if a woman becomes pregnant, she can pass RRP onto her child. It should also be known that treatment options are available for these symptoms but not for the virus itself.
How can HPV be prevented? One way is using condoms, whic have been shown to help prevent transfer. Vaccinations are also available for both men and women. For women, two vaccines are available: Cervarix and Gardasil. The vaccine comes in three doses of shots and the recommended age for vaccination is nine through 26. For men, only one vaccine is available: Gardasil. The vaccine comes in three doses of shots and the recommended age for vaccination is 11 through 26. Keep in mind that these vaccines do not work with people who have an active HPV infection, and it’s hard to tell if one has active HPV.
If you are interested in vaccinations, please consult your doctor about side effects and if the vaccination is right for you. The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) will eventually require all insurance plans to cover all recommended vaccines, including the HPV vaccines. (Note: This is not propaganda to suggest one needs to be vaccinated, I am just trying to provide basic information.)
So this article may not make one an expert on HPV, but hopefully this information will be helpful in some shape or form. General knowledge of STIs and STDs is important, especially for those who are sexually active. Know your risks.
—Delaney Fischer ’15 is a neuroscience major.