HPV stands for Human papillomavirus and is the most common sexually transmitted infection. The virus is transmitted through physical or sexual contact with someone who has the virus, even if that person does not have any signs of the virus. Signs and symptoms of HPV may not be seen for many years after initial infection, which can make it difficult to determine the source of HPV if you have multiple sex partners.
Most of the time, HPV goes away within a couple years without causing additional health problems. However, HPV can cause serious health problems like genital warts and cancer. Some HPV strains can cause cancer, although most do not. The most common cancers associated with HPV include cancers of the cervix, anus, penis, vulva, and back of the throat and tonsils. Cancer may take several years to develop, and it is impossible to tell who will get cancer compared to who will not.
Prevention of HPV can be obtained by getting the HPV vaccination. The vaccine is safe, effective, and advised for all preteens at age 11 to 12 years old and everyone up to 26 years old. Vaccination is usually not recommended for those older than 26 years old unless you meet certain risk criteria because there is already a high probability you have already been in contact with the virus. Other ways to lower your chance of getting HPV includes using condoms and having a limited number of sex partners.
Although there is not treatment for HPV there are treatments for the health concerns that may arise from the virus. Genital warts can go away with treatment of prescription medicine or cryotherapy. If not treated, genital warts may go away on their own, stay the same, or decrease in number. Cervical precancer treatment is available. Pap smears are recommended for routine health screenings to help determine if treatment is needed before complications arise.
This article reviewed by Dr. Jim Liu, MD and Ms. Deb Dooley, APRN.
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