HPV, or the human papillomavirus, is a very common sexually transmitted infection that causes the appearance of small warts. Half of all Americans who are sexually active will contract one of the more than 100 strains at some point. While many strains cause no symptoms or complications, others can increase your risk for certain cancers. Because this is such a common infection, it is a good idea to learn more about HPV, including symptoms, diagnosis and treatment.
How is It Transmitted?
HPV is transmitted through sexual contact, including contact with the genitals, mucous membranes or bodily fluids, intercourse or oral sex with an infected person. It can also be transmitted indirectly, like through a shower towel.
What Are the Symptoms?
Many people with HPV have no symptoms and may not even realize they are infected. Others experience small, cauliflower-shaped warts in the genital area. These warts come from low-risk strains and do not cause complications. Certain strains are considered high risk, including those that lead to the development of cervical cancer. In fact, 70 percent of cases of this type of cancer are linked to two specific strains of HPV. Less commonly, infection with a high risk strain of HPV can lead to penile or anal cancer.
How Is It Treated?
Most strains of HPV clear from the body on their own within two years, often without causing symptoms. Women ages 21 to 65 years old should have regular Pap smears to screen for cervical cancer. This is important since cancer takes years to develop and HPV often shows no symptoms during that time period. In addition, there is no test that can be used to diagnose it. Most people do not realize they have it until a related problem develops.
Can It Be Prevented?
Though condoms prevent transmission of most sexually transmitted infections, HPV can be spread through contact with areas that are not covered by a condom. You can lower your risk by limiting the number of partners you have and remaining monogamous. There are currently three vaccines (Cervarix, Gardasil and Gardasil-9) approved by the FDA to prevent the spread of HPV.
Talk to the Experts
If you are concerned about HPV, talk with the professionals at Rao Dermatology about ways to reduce your risk. If you are younger than age 26, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that you get the vaccine. If you are already infected, we have non-invasive and surgical treatment options available. We will work with you to determine which treatment is right for you during a consultation at one of our offices, with locations in Manhattan, Atlantic Highlands, Fresno and Hanford. Contact us today to schedule your appointment to learn more.