Have you ever heard of HPV? Whether you heard about these three letters or are clueless why it has been brought up during health class, it’s a serious topic that you should know about. Find out what HPV is, why it’s hard to know if someone else has HPV and why it’s so important for you to protect yourself against contracting it.
What is HPV? HPV, or Human Papillomavirus, is the virus that causes genital warts and can lead to cervical cancer and other specific cancers. It is the most common sexually transmitted disease. Young adults ages 15 to 24 years old have the highest risk for getting infected.
How Do You Get It? You can get HPV from sexual contact with someone who already has it. You can get it through vaginal, anal and oral sex — whether or not your partner even knows he or she has it. This includes any skin-to-skin genital contact. Unprotected intercourse with more than one partner creates the biggest risk for getting it, but any sexual genital contact can put you at risk.
How Can You Protect Yourself From Getting It? The best way to avoid HPV and any sexually transmitted infection or disease is, of course, not to have sexual contact at all. When you decide to become sexually active, it’s preferred to stick with only one partner for life. Select a partner who has been tested and is proven to be HPV and STD-free. When you do become sexually active, protect yourself and get regular checkups and pap tests to make sure that you are clean as well. Using a condom during intercourse reduces the risk of getting HPV; however remember that the infection can spread beyond the area covered by a condom. In this case, you can still be exposed to the virus.
There are vaccines that can be given to prevent many types of HPV. These vaccines can't prevent all types of HPV, but they can prevent some of the most dangerous, cancer-causing types. Ask your gynecologist if you’re a candidate for the vaccine. If you think you may be at risk for having HPV, talk to your doctor right away.
How Do You Know if You Have It? Most HPV infections are invisible, don't have any symptoms, and most people don't even know they have it. That's why it's important to get regular checkups and let your doctor know when you decide to become sexually active. Your doctor can also complete regular screenings to prevent cervical cancer or find it early using the Pap test (or Pap smear) and/or an HPV test. Although it’s an uncomfortable conversation to have, it's important to get the necessary tests to make sure you stay healthy.
While it’s not always easy to tell if you have HPV, one of the visible symptoms is genital warts. They often start as small bumps, alone or in clusters, around the genitals. As they get bigger, they look more like cauliflower. They can be itchy or can become irritated. They are REALLY contagious infecting most people who come into contact with them.
How is it Treated? The HPV virus itself can't be cured, but the problems it can cause can be addressed with treatments. Warts often fade away by themselves, but can be treated by a doctor. If you do have genital warts, it's important to get treatment to prevent future outbreaks.
You’re getting older, which means that you’re going to have to start taking more responsibility for yourself. Be informed and make decisions to keep yourself healthy. Read facts about hpv and learn about std prevention at BeingGirl.com.