Human papillomavirus (or its better known acronym, HPV) is so common that about 80% of women will get at least one type during their lifetime. In most of these cases, HPV will be cleared by the immune system within a year or two. In the cases where it is not cleared, it can cause very serious health issues including cervical cancer, other genital cancers, oropharyngeal cancer, genital warts, and recurrent respiratory papillomatosis.
HPV is an STI (Sexually Transmitted Infection). It’s a virus spread through intimate skin-to-skin contact, whether that be vaginal, oral, or anal sex; genital touching; or even childbirth from a woman to her baby. It can be spread even if there are no symptoms, so you can get it from someone who may not even know they have it.
HPV causes nearly 34,000 cases of cancer each year. The HPV vaccine can prevent about 31,000 of those cancers from even developing. Fortunately, the HPV vaccine is very effective and safe. Since the vaccine has been in use, infections and precancers have dropped drastically. “Among teen girls, infections with HPV types that cause most HPV cancers and genital warts have dropped 71%” and 61% among young adult women according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that all children, boys and girls, receive the HPV vaccine around the age of 11-12. It is most effective when administered long before being exposed to the virus. If given before the age of 15, children will only need two doses of the vaccine. For children older than 15, three shots may need to be given. The vaccine is recommended for adults through the age of 26 if they did not get vaccinated when they were younger.
Because there are very few symptoms of HPV, it is hard to know if you have it. For this reason, doctors encourage women to get regular Pap tests. These tests can identify changes caused by HPV. While in most females, HPV infections will naturally be fought off by the immune system within 1-2 years, 5%-10% of women will continue to have an active infection. This leads to a higher risk of cervical cancer.
Any questions that you have regarding HPV or other STIs should be discussed with your provider. If left untreated and unidentified, HPV can be very dangerous. Don’t hesitate to call or text us at 307-634-5216 to schedule a Pap Smear or other appointment with one of our providers.