Millions of Americans are infected with HPV every year, but may not be aware that they have it. There are many who may not recognize the signs and symptoms of the virus, therefore leaving it untreated and spreading it to every person they have sexual intercourse with. While many types of HPV are either treatable or heal on their own, it is necessary for people to educate themselves about this STD so that they may seek treatment if needed, ultimately preventing the virus from being spread further.
HPV, or Human Papillomavirus, is one of the more common sexually transmitted diseases. It is responsible for almost all cases of cervical cancer in women. While there are more than one hundred and thirty different types of HPV, the most common are types six, eleven, sixteen, and eighteen. HPV is spread only by direct skin contact and over thirty types are spread through sexual contact. HPV has no boundaries, and can infect anyone, regardless of their age, gender, ethnicity, race, or sexual orientation. In rare cases, a mother can pass it to her baby through a vaginal birth. The side effects will vary depending upon the type of HPV a person is diagnosed with.
HPV types six and eleven can cause both genital warts and warts that appear on the hands. Those who have genital warts rarely develop cervical cancer. There are treatments available for genital warts which include the use of topical creams and laser surgery to remove them. Types sixteen and eighteen cause the pre-cancerous cells that can eventually lead to cervical cancer. They are also responsible for causing cancers of the anus, vulva and vagina, as well as cancer of the anus or penis in men.
Those who develop HPV may have what is known as a latent or inactive infection. This simply means that there are no apparent signs of the virus, yet it can still be transmitted to others. For those who develop genital warts, but who have a normal immune system, it is quite possible for HPV to clear itself on its own without the use of treatment. There are also some instances when the virus is "hidden," which can cause symptoms to appear at a later time. If a person has been infected once with HPV, and it clears up on its own, it is possible to become infected again if intercourse is had with a different partner who is infected.
If a person develops genital warts from HPV, they may notice them around or on their vagina, anus, cervix, penis, or inner thigh. They may be raised or could be flat and can be either large or small. Some genital warts can be flesh colored, pink, red, or brown, and may appear by themselves or clumped together in one area. If the genital warts grow together, they may begin to look like cauliflower. For those who develop cervical cancer, there may be no obvious signs such as pain or bleeding. The only way to detect cervical cancer in most cases is by having an annual pap smear, a test that can detect abnormal changes in the cervix sometimes caused by pre-cancerous cells.
The most obvious form of HPV prevention is single partner intercourse. The next precaution to guard your health is the use of condoms, although even they do not offer complete protection from the virus as they do not cover all infected areas such as the scrotum. There is also a vaccine now available to protect young girls ages nine to twenty-six. It is called Gardasil and protects against HPV types six, eleven, sixteen, and eighteen. Because HPV occurs more commonly in young women who have intercourse at an early age, the vaccine has been recommended as a routine vaccination for girls ages eleven and twelve. It is given in a series of three shots over a six month period.
If someone has had intercourse with an infected person and later discovers that person is infected with HPV, they should visit their doctor immediately to seek treatment. If anything remotely resembling genital warts appears, or a person experiences any kind of itching around the anus or vagina, they will also need to make an appointment with their physician. In many cases, young women either do not have their own gynecologist, or insurance to cover the cost of the exam. For these women, Planned Parenthood is the best option because they offer a sliding fee scale. Finally, if a person notices genital warts, it is imperative that they do not use any over-the-counter wart treatments, as they are too harsh for the sensitive skin that surrounds the genitals.