This is a group of more than 40 viruses that can infect men and women. Most of the viruses do not cause any problems, but a few can cause genital warts or cancer of the cervix, penis, anus, mouth or throat. Even if someone is infected with the types that cause cancer or warts, there may be no symptoms. In most people the virus goes away by itself without causing any health problems, but it is still able to be passed to other people who may develop symptoms.
Anyone who is having (or has ever had) sex can get HPV. HPV is so common that nearly all sexually-active men and women get it at some point in their lives. This is true even for people who only have sex with one person in their lifetime.
The viruses are spread by skin to skin contact (oral, vaginal, anal sex) and can be spread by sex toys and hands.
Nearly 79 million Americans have HPV.
360,000 develop genital warts each year. 12,000 develop cervical cancer.
HPV tests are available to help screen women aged 30 years and older for cervical cancer. These HPV tests are not recommended to screen men, adolescents, or women under the age of 30 years. There is no general HPV test for men or women to check one's overall “HPV status.” Also, there is not an approved HPV test to find HPV in the mouth or throat.
Women who are sexually active should have a yearly pap test to screen for changes in the cells that can lead to cancer.
Genital warts can be treated by a doctor or at home with topical medication, depending on the severity and location. If genital warts are not treated they may go away on their own, stay the same or increase in size and number.
Cervical cancer can be treated when it is found early. That is why it is important to get yearly pap tests.
Throat cancers caused by hpv tend to be quite treatable and have good survival rates.
The HPV vaccine, Gardisil, is a very safe, effective way to prevent infection with the majority of the HPV viruses that cause cancer and warts. The vaccine is recommended for boys and girls age 11-26.
If you have teens, please get them vaccinated. Most insurances will cover the vaccine. The results of this vaccine in preventing cancer and warts have been amazing.
If you are over 26, but have not had much sexual experience, the vaccine may be beneficial to you. You should talk with your Dr to determine if it's a good choice. If you've had more than a few partners in your life you have already been exposed and the vaccine probably won't be of benefit. The vaccine is a series of 3 shots and is very expensive. If you are over 26 your insurance won't cover it. I got the series a few years ago. It was $280 per shot through my Dr. It was $100 per shot cheaper at Planned Parenthood.
Quit Smoking and limit alcohol –
Smoking and alcohol use increase your chances of developing cervical and throat cancer if you are infected with HPV. Smoking also makes it much less likely that your body will clear an HPV infection on its own.
Get yearly pap tests to find cancer early. Even if you've had a hysterectomy you may still need to have the test done on the cervical cuff (the tissue at the top of the vagina where the uterus was removed). Check with your Dr.
Condoms are effective in preventing warts and cancer. Since they don't cover all skin surfaces, they are not a guarantee. Condoms have also been shown to help the body resolve early cervical dysplasia caused by HPV so that it does not progress to cancer.
When sharing sex toys cover them with a condom and change it between people. Or clean the toys between use. Jelly type toys are porous and can not be cleaned. They should not be shared (as an aside, the jelly material contains phthalates which are toxic and actually illegal in Europe). Silicone, hard plastic, stainless steel and glass toys can be cleaned.
Ideally you should wear gloves or wash your hands well between partners. Carrageenan Lube- New research shows that carrageenan, a seaweed component found in some lubes may help to prevent HPV infection.
HPV resources: http://www.cdc.gov/std/hpv/stdfact-hpv.htm