Genital HPV infection – Sexually transmitted diseases

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Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States. Some of the health effects that HPV can have can be prevented with a vaccine.

What is HPV?
HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI). HPV is a different virus than HIV and HSV (herpes). HPV is so common that almost all sexually active men and women get it at some point in their lives. There are many different types of HPV. Some types can cause health problems such as genital warts and cancers. But there is a vaccine that can prevent these health problems from happening.

How is HPV transmitted?
You can get HPV by having oral, vaginal, or anal sex with a person who has the virus. It is most often transmitted during vaginal or anal intercourse. HPV can be transmitted even when the infected person has no signs or symptoms.

Any sexually active person can get HPV, even if they have sex with only one person. You may also develop symptoms years after having sex with an infected person, making it difficult to know when you were first infected.

Does HPV cause health problems?
In most cases, HPV goes away on its own and does not cause any health problems. But when HPV doesn’t go away, it can cause health problems like genital warts or cancer.

Genital warts usually appear as small bumps or groups of bumps in the genital area. Genital warts can be small or large, flat or raised, or cauliflower-shaped. A health care provider can usually diagnose warts by looking at the genital area.

Does HPV cause cancer?
HPV can cause cervical cancer and other cancers such as cancers of the vulva, vagina, penis, or anus. It can also cause cancer in the back of the throat, such as the base of the tongue and tonsils (called oropharyngeal cancer).

Cancer can usually take years—even decades—to appear after a person has contracted HPV. The types of HPV that can cause genital warts are not the same as those that can cause cancer.

There is no way to know who with HPV will develop cancer or other health problems. People with weak immune systems (including people with HIV/AIDS) may be less able to fight HPV and more likely to have health problems from the virus.

How can you avoid HPV and the health problems it can cause?
There are several things you can do to reduce your chance of getting HPV.

get vaccinated The HPV vaccine is safe and effective. It can protect men and women against HPV-caused diseases (including cancer) when given at the recommended ages (see “Who Should Get Vaccinated?” below). The CDC recommends that children 11 to 12 years of age receive two doses of the HPV vaccine to protect against cancers caused by this virus.

Get screened for cervical cancer. Routine screening in women ages 21 to 65 can prevent cervical cancer.
If you are sexually active:

Use a latex condom correctly every time you have sex. This can lower your chances of getting HPV. However, HPV can infect areas that the condom does not cover, so condoms may not offer full protection against HPV.
Be in a mutually monogamous relationship or only have sex with a person who only has sex with you.

Who should be vaccinated?
All boys and girls 11 or 12 years old should be vaccinated.

They are also recommended for men up to 21 years of age who have not received it before and for women up to 26 years of age, if they were not vaccinated when they were younger.

The vaccine is also recommended for gay and bisexual men (or any man who has sex with men) up to age 26. It is also recommended for men and women with compromised immune systems (including people with HIV/AIDS) up to age 26, if they did not receive the full vaccine when they were younger.

How do I know if I have HPV?
There is no test to determine whether or not a person has HPV. There is also no approved HPV test to determine if HPV is present in the mouth or throat.
There are HPV tests that can be used to screen for cervical cancer. These tests are recommended only for screening in women 30 years of age and older. They are not recommended for screening in men, adolescents, or women under the age of 30.

Most people with HPV do not know they are infected and never have symptoms or health problems from the virus. Some people find out they have HPV when they develop genital warts. Women can find out they have HPV when they get an abnormal Pap smear (when being screened for cervical cancer). Others may only find out once they have more serious HPV problems like cancers.

How common are HPV and the health problems caused by it?
HPV (the virus): About 79 million Americans are currently infected with HPV. About 14 million people a year contract the infection for the first time. HPV is so common that almost all sexually active men and women will get at least one type of HPV at some point in their lives.

HPV-related health problems include genital warts and cervical cancer.

Genital warts: About 360,000 people in the United States have genital warts each year.

Cervical Cancer: Each year, more than 10,000 women in the United States get cervical cancer.

There are other conditions and other cancers caused by HPV that occur in people living in the United States.

Each year, about 21,000 HPV-related cancers could be prevented with the HPV vaccine.

I’m pregnant. Will having HPV affect my pregnancy?
If you are pregnant and have HPV, it could cause genital warts or abnormal cell changes on your cervix. Abnormal cell changes can be detected through a routine cervical cancer screening test. You should have a routine screening test for cervical cancer, even during pregnancy.

Can I be treated for HPV or health problems caused by this virus?
There is no treatment against the virus itself. However, there are treatments for health problems that HPV can cause:

Genital warts can be treated by you or your doctor. If left untreated, genital warts may go away, stay the same, or increase in size or number.
Cervical precancer can be treated. Women who have regular Pap smears and follow-up can identify problems before cancer appears. Prevention is always preferable than treatment.
Other HPV-associated cancers can also be more easily treated if diagnosed and treated early

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