Human papillomavirus, usually abbreviated HPV, is the most common sexually transmitted infection known to humans today.
Having sexual intercourse increases the chance of more than 40 different types of HPV to infect genital areas of both men and women, regardless of age, according to Planned Parenthood’s website.
“A lot of people are unaware that they have it," Kayla Tejada, a representative at Planned Parenthood, said. "It can go away on its own based off of how strong your immune system is."
Although the common infection is generally harmless, if left unchecked, certain types of HPV put a person at greater risk for genital warts and cancer in areas like the vagina, penis, anus, mouth and throat, the Planned Parenthood website stated.
According to Tejada, women who come to Planned Parenthood for annual exams get pap smears, which test for abnormal cells on the cervix. This can indicate whether or not a person has HPV. Tejada also said men can get HPV as well, but there isn’t a test to indicate whether they have it.
“Women are more prone; the cervical tissue is much more susceptible to developing cancer in the setting of a high-risk HPV strain. High-risk HPV strains can much less be associated with vaginal and vulvar cancers,” Dr. Judy Klein, a staff physician of the IU Health Center said. “And then in men and women, they can be associated with anal cancer, and in men, very rarely, cancer of the penis.”
It’s recommended women start receiving pap smears once they are 21, and although women who are not sexually active have a lower risk for cervical cancer, considering the exam is still useful, according to an article from Mayoclinic.
“The estimates are that 80 percent of sexually active adults will have an HPV infection at sometime in their lives because it is very common,” Klein said.
Klein listed four different ways to prevent the spread and contraction of HPV, including vaccinating 11-to-12-year-old children with the FDA-approved HPV vaccination, using condoms consistently, limiting the number of lifetime sexual partners and monitoring alcohol intake.
“Be careful about alcohol. We see that when people have their judgment impaired by alcohol, the commitment to using condoms goes out the door,” Klein said.
While there are some cures for the health problems HPV causes, like genital warts, there is not a cure for the virus itself, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website.
“The HPV vaccine can be given later. It’s FDA approved to age 26 in women and age 21 in men, but we give it to people who are older if they want it,” Klein said. “People can get the HPV vaccine at the health center; it’s a series of three shots given over a six month period.”
The IU Health Center offers pap smears, contraception counseling and other gynecological services for students to take advantage of, based on the IU Health Center's website. To make an appointment, call the health center’s number at 317-944-7010.
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