Protect yourself against HPV. HPV vaccinations at SHAC are covered 100% by the student insurance. For more information call SHAC at 503.725.2800.
Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
Genital human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI). There are more than 40 HPV types that can infect the genital areas of males and females. These HPV types can also infect the skin, mouth, and throat. Most people who become infected with HPV do not even know they have it.
Signs and Symptoms
Most people with HPV do not develop symptoms or health problems from it. In 90% of cases, the body’s immune system clears HPV naturally within two years. But there is no way to know which people who get HPV will go on to develop cancer or other health problems.
- Sometimes, certain types of HPV can cause genital warts in males and females. Rarely, these types can also cause warts in the throat.
- Other HPV types can cause normal cells in the body to turn abnormal, and might lead to cancer over time. These HPV types can cause cervical cancer and other, less common cancers.
How HPV Spreads
HPV is passed on through genital contact, most often during vaginal and anal sex. HPV may also be passed on during oral sex and genital-to-genital contact. HPV can be passed on between straight and same-sex partners—even when the infected partner has no signs or symptoms.
A person can have HPV even if years have passed since he or she had sexual contact with an infected person. Most infected persons do not realize they are infected or that they are passing the virus on to a sex partner. It is also possible to get more than one type of HPV.
Potential Health Problems of HPV
- Genital warts usually appear as a small bump or groups of bumps in the genital area. They can be small or large, raised or flat, or shaped like a cauliflower. Health care providers can diagnose warts by looking at the genital area during an office visit. Warts can appear within weeks or months after sexual contact with an infected partner—even if the infected partner has no signs of genital warts. If left untreated, genital warts might go away, remain unchanged, or increase in size or number.
- Cervical cancer usually does not have symptoms until it is quite advanced, very serious and hard to treat. For this reason, it is important for women to get regular screening for cervical cancer. Screening tests can find early signs of disease so that problems can be treated early, before they ever turn into cancer.
- Other HPV-related cancers might not have signs or symptoms until they are advanced and hard to treat.
- Recurrent Pharyngeal Papillomatosis (RRP) causes warts to grow in the throat. It can sometimes block the airway, causing a hoarse voice or troubled breathing.
How to Prevent HPV
There are several ways that people can lower their chances of getting HPV:
- Vaccines can protect males and females against some of the most common types of HPV. HPV vaccines are given in three doses over six months. It is important to get all three doses to get the best protection. The vaccines are most effective when given before a person's first sexual contact, when he or she could be exposed to HPV.
- Girls and women: Two vaccines (Cervarix and Gardasil) are available to protect females against the types of HPV that cause most cervical cancers. One of these vaccines (Gardasil) also protects against most genital warts. Gardasil has also been shown to protect against anal, vaginal and vulvar cancers. Both vaccines are recommended for 11 and 12 year-old girls, and for females 13 through 26 years of age, who did not get any or all of the doses when they were younger. These vaccines can also be given to girls beginning at age 9. It is recommended that females get the same vaccine brand for all three doses, whenever possible.
- Boys and men: One available vaccine (Gardasil) protects males against most genital warts and anal cancers. This vaccine is available for boys and men, 9 through 26 years of age.
- For those who choose to be sexually active, condoms may lower the risk of HPV infection. To be most effective, they should be used with every sex act, from start to finish. Condoms may also lower the risk of developing HPV-related diseases, such as genital warts and cervical cancer. But HPV can infect areas that are not covered by a condom - so condoms may not fully protect against HPV.
- People can also lower their chances of getting HPV by being in a faithful relationship with one partner; limiting their number of sex partners; and choosing a partner who has had no or few prior sex partners. But even people with only one lifetime sex partner can get HPV. And it may not be possible to determine if a partner who has been sexually active in the past is currently infected. That's why the only sure way to prevent HPV is to avoid all sexual activity.