“HPV” stands for human papillomavirus. HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States. Most of the time HPV is harmless and will go away by itself. Some types of HPV can lead to cancer and genital warts. There are more than 200 types of HPV. Twenty percent of them can infect your genital area. This includes your vulva, cervix, rectum, anus, penis and scrotum. It can also affect your mouth and throat. At least a dozen variant of HPV can lead to cancer. Variant 16 and 18 are linked to 70% of the cancer cases. Variant 6 and 11 lead to genital warts. More than 30 variants can lead to warts on other parts of your body. HPV causes 99% of the cervical cancers in the United States.
The majority of anal, cervical, most cancers affecting the penis and oral cavity (mouth, throat and sinus cavities) can be linked to the human papillomavirus. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recorded about 43 million HPV infections in 2018. Most of these infections were among people in their late teens and early 20s.
Even if you’ve been in a monogamous sexual relationship for years, you may unknowingly be carrying the potentially deadly virus. Half of all sexually active men and women in the United States will be infected with HPV at some point in their lives.
Most HPV infection goes undetected because they don’t cause warts or any other signs or symptoms. Both women and men that are infected can unknowingly transmit the virus during sexual encounters. These can be through the vagina, anal and mouth. Kissing can also be another route of transmission. HPV can lay dormant for many years after a person contracts the virus, even if symptoms never occur. About 10% to 15% of people become infected via nonsexual sources. People with a lowered immune system are at greater risk for developing cancer from HPV. People undergoing chemotherapy, have diabetes, have an autoimmune disease such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis, or who have multiple sex partners are at greater risk for an HPV infection. The good news is that your body’s immune system can effectively eliminate 90% of the cancer-causing variants within two years. When the virus stays in the body more than two years it is considered chronic and increases your risk for cancer. Some ingredients in vaginal spermicides triple a woman’s risk for HPV infection. The World Health Organization stated “HPV infection is so common because it can spread without penetrative intercourse — it can be passed on simply through skin-to-skin contact.”
The CDC recommends that:
Get vaccinated. Adolescents should receive the vaccine around age 11 or 12, or before you become sexually active. You can still get the vaccine until age 45.
Use barrier methods whenever you have sex. This includes consistent and correct use of barrier methods such as condoms, dental dams or anything that protects from direct genital contact.
Avoid sex if warts are present. If there’s an active infection, it’s still possible for the virus to spread even if a condom is worn.
Don’t share personal items that make contact with genitals. This includes towels.
Reduce or avoid smoking. Smoking can actually increase risk of a wart outbreak. Quitting can be difficult, but a doctor can help create a cessation plan that works for you.
Tell sexual partners about HPV status before sexual activity. Ask your partners to let you know if they have any STIs. Ideally, get tested before having sex.
All females between the ages of 21 and 65 should get regular pap smears tests.
The CDC list three types of screening tests for women:
HPV test: A health care professional will test cervical cells for DNA or RNA from high-risk HPV types that can cause cervical and other cancers.
Pap test: A health care professional will examine cervical cells to check for cancer or precancerous changes.
HPV/Pap co-test: This is a combination of the HPV and Pap tests.
One of the questions that came up in putting this article together was the question of cheating. “I tested positive for HPV, did my partner cheat on me?” HPV is very common, and if you’re sexually active, it’s one of the risks you face. It doesn’t mean that you or your partner or previous partners did anything wrong. Partners tend to share strains of the virus between them, which means it’s almost impossible to know where the infection started.
A second was “Can you use a disinfectant to kill HPV?” A study done at Penn State University states that “chemical disinfectants used in the hospitals and other health care settings have absolutely no effect on killing human papillomavirus. So unless bleach or autoclaving is used in the hospital setting, human papillomavirus is not being killed and there is a potential spread of HPV through hospital acquired or instrument or tool infection.”
To insure your health you should get regular checkups, take note in any changes that happen to your body and get answers you can understand from your doctor.