Smart steps protecting yourself from HPV

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Smart steps protecting yourself from HPV

The most common sexually transmitted infection is HPV or human papillomavirus with about 79 million Americans currently infected with it. The word papillomas is the word for a small benign tumor or warts which can infect the genital areas of men and women.  Each year about 14 million people become newly infected and just about all sexually active people will get HPV at some point in their lives.

How is HPV spread?

HPV is spread through skin-to-skin sexual contact and is most commonly spread through oral, vaginal, or anal sex with someone who has the virus. A person with HPV does not have to be exhibiting signs or symptoms of the virus in order to pass it to someone else.  It doesn’t matter if you’ve had sex with only one person or many as anyone who is sexually active can get HPV.   It is estimated that more than 70% of the general population is infected with HPV.

What health problems can HPV cause?

HPV belongs to a large group of more than 150 viruses with some causing genital warts and others causing cancer.  Around 360,000 people in the United States develop genital warts each year.  If a person develops a small bump or group of bumps in the genital area that are raised or flat or shaped like a cauliflower, they should go to a doctor to have it diagnosed. 

The types of cancer HPV is associated with are cervical cancer, head and neck cancers, penile cancer and anal cancer.  A person who has HPV has no way of knowing if they will develop cancer or not.  However, most HPV viruses go away on their own without causing health problems. 

How to prevent HPV

There are several ways to reduce your risk of spreading or contracting HPV:

Abstinance – This is the only certain way to avoid HPV but not the most practical or realistic for the vast majority of adults.

Practice safe sex with a condom – There is no guarantee wearing a condom will 100% prevent the transmission of HPV but for women whose partner wears a condom, their risk is reduced by 70%.  Remember though, HPV is contracted through sexual skin-to-skin contact and not by bodily fluids.  Even if the penis is covered by a condom, it still leaves some of the genitals exposed which can come in contact with the vagina leading to a transmission of the virus. 

Limit the number of sexual partners – Having a committed lifelong monogamous relationship can greatly reduce your chance of contracting HPV.  However, the greater the number of sexual partners throughout your life will likely lead to contracting HPV. 

Get the HPV vaccine – The HPV vaccine named Gardasil was approved by the FDA in 2006.  It is a safe and effective means of protecting both males and females against disease including cancer caused by HPV when given in the recommended age range of 9 to 26.  By vaccinating with Gardasil before individuals become sexually active, this can reduce exposure to HPV and decrease the incidence of it to begin with. 

Women should get regular Pap tests – It’s important for women to have regular check-ups, which include Pap smears to look for cervical cancer in its earliest stages when it’s most treatable. The Pap smear is a test that checks for abnormalities in the cells that line the cervix and is one of the best ways to detect cervical cancer.

Don’t begin having sex at a young age – The younger you are when you start having sex, the greater your risk for HPV transmission. That’s because you are more likely to come in contact with a partner has HPV. It’s important to be honest with your partner about your sexual history and that your partner is honest with you about their sexual history. If you know your partner’s history, you can make wiser choices to protect against HPV transmission.