Q: What is HPV? Should I get the HPV vaccine?
A: HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the world. HPV is a different virus than HIV and HSV (herpes). Most sexually active adults are exposed to the HPV virus during their lifetime. There are many different strains of HPV which can cause health problems like genital warts and cancers. But there are vaccines that can stop these health problems from happening.
Q: How is HPV spread?
A: You can get HPV by having vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone who has the virus. It is most commonly spread during vaginal or anal sex. HPV can be passed even when an infected person has no signs or symptoms. Anyone who is sexually active can get HPV, even if you have had sex with only one person. You also can develop symptoms years after you have sex with someone who is infected, which makes it hard to know when you first became infected.
Q: Does HPV cause health care problems?
A: In most cases, HPV goes away on its own and does not cause any health problems. But when HPV does not go away, it can cause genital warts and cancer and is contagious. Genital warts usually appear as a small bump or group of bumps in the genital area. They can be small or large, flat or raised and shaped like a cauliflower. An experienced healthcare provider can usually diagnose warts by visual examination.
Q: Does HPV cause cancer?
A: HPV is the cause of cancers of the cervix, anus. oropharynx (tonsils and tongue), penis, vulva and vagina. These cancers develop decades after a person first got the HPV infection. The strains of HPV that cause cause genital warts are generally not the same as the strains of HPV that cause cancers.
There is no way to know which people who have HPV will develop cancer or other health problems. People with weak immune systems may be less able to fight off HPV and more likely to develop health problems from the infection.
Q: How can I avoid HPV and the health problems it can cause?
A: Use condoms, stay in a monogamous relationships stop smoking, get vaccinated, get screened in order to make sure that you do not have a growth that is precancerous or cancerous.
Q: Who should get vaccinated?
A: All boys and girls ages 11 or 12 years and older should get vaccinated. Catch-up vaccines are recommended for males through age 21 and for females through age 26, if they did not get vaccinated when they were younger. The vaccine is recommended for gay and bisexual men through the age of 26. The vaccine is also recommended for men and women with compromised immune systems through age 26 if they did not get fully vaccinated when they were younger.
Q: How do I know if I have HPV?
A: Go to your physician and ask for an examination for this condition. The diagnosis of external genital warts in men and women is made by a visual examination which can be confirmed with a biopsy. Woman can get a Pap smear to determine whether there is cervical involvement. There is no approved screening test for HPV to tell whether it is in the throat or tongue.
Q: How common is HPV and the health problems caused by HPV?
A: Over 80 million Americans are currently infected with HPV and 14 million new people become infected every year. Most sexually-active adults in the United States will have been exposed to an HPV infection during their lifetime.
Q: What is the treatment for HPV?
A: HPV can be treated by cryotherapy (freezing), cauterization (burning), and surgical removal. Self-administered medications can be prescribed for external growths.