Human papillomavirus, or HPV, affects more than 79 million Americans. As the most common sexually transmitted infection, HPV disproportionately affects teens and young adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Doctors have identified more than 150 strains of HPV, many of which do not cause symptoms. However, some strains lead to genital warts or cause cancer to develop when left untreated. Review the facts about HPV to protect yourself from or seek help for an infection.
Transmission of HPV
Any sexually active person can contract HPV from oral, vaginal, or anal sex with an infected person, even if the infected person does not have symptoms. You can get HPV after having sex just once, or you can develop symptoms of an infection contracted months or years ago. Skin-to-skin contact with an HPV-infected area can also spread the virus. Individuals who have multiple sexual partners are more likely to contract HPV.
Symptoms of HPV
Although HPV symptoms are often limited, some people contract a strain that causes genital warts. These small bumps in the genital area can appear raised, flat, cauliflower-shaped, or in a group. Genital warts are rarely painful but may itch or feel sensitive to touch.
Other strains increase the person’s risk for cervical cancer, or cancer affecting the anus, penis, vulva, vagina, tonsils, or throat. Cancer associated with HPV typically develops over many years after the initial infection. Individuals who have HIV or other immune system challenges are at increased risk for HPV-related cancer.
Treatments for HPV
In most cases, HPV infections resolve without causing symptoms or complications. While no cure exists for HPV, prescription medication can often resolve genital wart outbreaks. However, these lesions can recur because the virus remains in the body. Some of the most common HPV treatments for genital warts include:
- Topical ointments that can be applied to warts in the genital and anal areas
- Chemical treatments that can remove both external and internal warts
- Prescription cream that increases the body’s immune response to the infection, potentially limiting the frequency and severity of outbreaks
- Laser treatments to remove internal and external warts
- Surgical removal of warts, including procedures involving cauterization and freezing with liquid nitrogen
HPV Prevention Measures
The CDC recommends an HPV vaccine for all individuals to reduce the risk of cervical and other cancers associated with this STI. Health care providers offer the vaccine starting at age 11 or 12, but it is effective when administered anytime before age 26. Some adults ages 27 to 45 may also experience some benefit from the vaccine if recommended by their doctors.
The CDC also says that women ages 21 to 65 should have regular screenings for cervical cancer. Current recommendations from the American Cancer Society and other organizations call for a Pap test every three years. This exam checks the cervical mucus for the presence of abnormal cells.
Sexually active individuals can reduce the risk of contracting HPV by using latex condoms correctly during every sexual encounter. However, if your partner has an infection outside the area covered by a condom, you can still contract the virus. When you have a new sexual partner, openly discuss your mutual risk factors to limit the chances of HPV transmission.
Contact Peoria Women’s Health
If you have concerns about your STI risk or think you may have contracted HPV, visit the compassionate, experienced providers at Peoria Women’s Health for a consultation. Contact us today to schedule your appointment and take charge of your sexual health. You can contact the office of Dr. Tamara Olt at (309) 692-2805 or Dr. Lindsey Ma at (309) 623-0200.
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