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5 Things You Need to Know About HPV to Protect Yourself

Posted February 10, 2020


By now, you’ve probably heard about human papillomavirus (HPV). Maybe you heard about it in a TV commercial, read about it in a magazine, or maybe you or your child’s doctor recommended the HPV vaccine. But, why is everyone talking about it? Should you be concerned?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the United States and nearly 80 million people in this country have it. So, what’s all the hype about? HPV causes about 31,500 new cases of cancer in men and women every year.

The good news is there are ways to guard against it. It’s important to get informed and know how to protect yourself and your children against the virus. Here are 5 things you need to know about HPV:

1. There are many types of HPV

Some are harmless, while others can cause serious health problems. In many cases, the virus is low-risk and goes away on its own. However, there are some types that can lead to genital warts or even cancer. 

In females, HPV infection can cause problems with the cervix that may lead to cervical cancer. It also can cause cancer in the vagina, vulva, anus, mouth, and throat. 

In males, HPV infection may lead to cancer in the penis, anus, mouth, and throat.

2. Anyone who is sexually active can contract HPV

It’s most commonly spread during vaginal or anal sex, and it can be passed even when an infected person has no signs or symptoms. 

3. Once infected, a person may not experience any symptoms

In fact, most people don’t even know they have HPV. Sometimes, warts may appear weeks, months or even years after contracting the virus. Women may also discover they have HPV with abnormal cervical cells found during a Pap smear.

Seeing your gynecologist for regular Pap smears (every 3-5 years, depending on your age) is the best way to diagnose HPV before it leads to cervical precancer or cancer. 

4. There is no cure for HPV, but the symptoms are treatable.

A physician can remove warts or precancerous cells in affected tissue to reduce your risk of developing cancer. 

5. Preventing HPV in the first place is your best defense.

The HPV vaccine (Gardasil 9) is the best way to prevent infection. The CDC recommends the HPV vaccination for boys and girls alike at age 11 or 12. However, it can be given as early as age 9 and as late as age 45. The HPV vaccine offers protection against 90 percent of the viruses that cause genital warts and 70 to 80 percent of high-risk HPV viruses that can cause cancer.

Being vaccinated before having sex for the first time is the most effective way to prevent it. But, even if you have had sex, you should still consider the vaccine! It can protect against strains of the virus that you have not come in contact with.

Using barrier contraception (condoms) is another way to protect against infection as well. If nothing else, educating yourself, practicing safe sex and having regular checkups with your physician can all help lower the risk of getting HPV. 

If nothing else, educating yourself, practicing safe sex, and regular checkups with your physician can all help lower your risk of getting HPV.

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