HPV, or human papillomavirus, is incredibly common, with more than 79 million Americans carrying at least one of the more than 200 strains. You may associate HPV with genital warts and cervical cancer, but in many cases, HPV causes no symptoms at all. Approximately 40 strains of HPV are spread through vaginal, anal, and oral sexual contact; 12 strains are linked to cancer.
Your immune system is strong and often eliminates HPV viruses without any medical intervention. But, should you become infected with one of the strains that are associated with precancerous or cancerous cell growth, HPV can be quite serious.
You can avoid the potentially life-threatening consequences of HPV by informing yourself about the virus and seeking protection with the vaccine and safe sex practices.
1) Most people get HPV
If you’re diagnosed with HPV, or Dr. Jean-Gilles suggests you be tested, don’t be worried. Most people who are sexually active get at least one strain of HPV during their lifetime. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 80% of women will experience an infection before the age of 50.
Because you’re likely to be infected, it’s important to be tested and regularly checked for irregular cellular activity that results from HPV through Pap smears. You should get your first Pap smear around age 21 and Dr. Jean-Gilles can then recommend a regular schedule following. A Pap smear is conducted during your pelvic exam and takes just a few seconds. Cells are obtained from the cervix using a swab and sent off to a laboratory for analysis.
2) A vaccine is available
The good news is that you can get vaccinated against many strains of HPV. Anyone who plans on being sexually active can benefit from the vaccine. The guidelines recommend that girls get vaccinated between the ages of 11 and 12, before they’re sexually active. After age 26, getting the vaccine isn’t recommended because most women have already been exposed to HPV.
Boys can also get the vaccine. Gardasil, one of the approved HPV vaccines, is available to boys who are between 11 and 12. One of the benefits of this vaccine is that it also protects them from developing cancers later in life that are associated with HPV, including cancer of the mouth, penis, anus, and mouth. By receiving the vaccine, boys reduce the chance they’ll transmit HPV to others.
3) HPV is transferred through skin-to-skin contact
Oral sex, anal sex, and vaginal sex are all ways to transfer HPV to others. The only way to truly prevent HPV transmission is through strict abstinence. Condoms can help reduce your chance of infection, but don’t eliminate the risk entirely.
Men are also carriers of HPV, with 69% of men studied in 2014 research having a strain of the virus. An HPV test for men doesn’t currently exist, so it’s important for women to stay on top of their health with regular pelvic exams and Pap smears.
The team at Abundant Life Healthcare provides the HPV vaccine and offers Pap tests to screen for the cellular changes that HPV can cause. The staff is available for your gynecological health needs, just call or book online.