HPV: More Common Than You Think
posted by Maria Onedia, MD | September 5, 2018
Human papillomavirus virus (HPV) is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections (STI), but don’t confuse HPV with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) or herpes simplex (HSV). Although HIV and HSV are also STIs, each of these viruses is much different than HPV.
HPV usually causes warts. There are over 100 varieties of the virus, and different types can cause warts on different parts of your body, including your feet, hands, face, neck and genitals. Typically, when doctors refer to HPV, it’s the virus that causes warts on your genitals.
Genital HPV is spread by having vaginal, anal or oral sex with another person who is infected, and it can be passed to someone else, even if the infected person does not have any symptoms. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that “most people with HPV do not know they are infected and never develop health problems or symptoms.”
This is typically because the immune system defeats the infection before warts are formed.
Genital warts can appear on the anus, cervix, scrotum, thigh or penis, though they may not show up for weeks, months or even years after the transmission. Some warts are shaped like cauliflower and may be raised, flat, pink or flesh-colored. In some cases, you may have only one wart.
It’s important to remember that you can get HPV through just one sexual encounter, so it’s critical to use prevention techniques to avoid complications.
Complications of HPV
HPV can cause cancer in the cervix, vulva, anus, penis and vagina. However, it can take years for these cancers to develop. People who have weakened immune systems may be more likely to have complications from HPV.
According to the CDC, about 79 million Americans are infected with HPV, and about 1 percent of sexually active adults in the United States have genital warts. The CDC estimates that practically everyone who is sexually active will get HPV at some time in their lifetime unless they get the HPV vaccine. About 19,400 women and 12,100 men in the United States are affected by cancers caused by HPV.
The virus itself is not treatable, but you can get treatment for related health problems. Your healthcare provider can treat genital warts with prescription medication, for example.
There are many things you can do to lower your risk of contracting HPV:
Talk to your healthcare provider about HPV to get more information about staying healthy.
“Genital HPV Infection – Fact Sheet.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“HPV Infection.” Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hpv-infection/symptoms-causes/syc-20351596
“How do I know if I have HPV?” WebMD. WebMDhttps://www.webmd.com/sexual-conditions/hpv-genital-warts/hpv-symptoms-tests
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. You should always consult your doctor before making decisions about your health.