HPV: The Most Common STI in the United States
Whenever you decide to have unprotected sex, you run the risk of either getting pregnant or transferring a sexually transmitted disease.
The human papillomavirus is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States. About 79 million Americans have HPV, and about 14 million are newly infected each year, according to the National Cancer Institute.
HPV is transmitted during sexual activity, skin-to-skin contact, or contact of the mucous membranes. It is so common that most sexually active men and women will become infected during their lifetime.
Most HPV infections will resolve on their own between eight and 13 months.
A group of about 200 related viruses are all considered HPV. There are about 40 types of HPV virus that are sexually transmitted. It can be transferred during vaginal, anal or oral sex with someone that currently has the virus.
Often there are no signs or symptoms of HPV, so one partner may not know they are infecting another partner.
Genital warts are the most common indicators of HPV. About 360,000 Americans are newly infected with genital warts each year. HPV types 6 and 11 cause 90 percent of all genital warts. HPV that results in genital warts are called low-risk types of HPV.
Genital warts are a small group of bumps that cluster together and looking like cauliflower. Sometimes the bumps are raised, and sometimes they are flat. They are located in the genitals, anus, mouth or throat.
Other strains of HPV are considered high-risk HPV because they cause changes to cells that, over time, can lead to cancer cells. There are about a dozen HPV types that are considered high-risk viruses.
HPV types 16 and 18 have been identified as the cause for cervical cancer.
These strains can increase the risk of cervical cancer and other types of cancers in the genital region. They can increase the risk for cancers of the vulva, vagina, penis or anus. Since HPV can be transferred during oral sex, it can also cause cancer in the back of the throat, tongue or tonsils.
These cancers growing slowly. They can take years, even decades, to emerge.
More than 11,000 women get cervical cancer each year, according to the CDC.
Since HPV is such a common infection, HPV testing is not usually a recommended test for younger women because it may show a positive result so often.
It is important to have your women’s exam including a Pap test, or Pap smear, during its regularly scheduled time. The Pap smear will detect whether or not the cervix has abnormal cells that could lead to cervical dysplasia or cervical cancer.
Ask your doctor if you need a screening HPV test if you are over the age of 30. If a Pap comes back abnormal, then an HPV test may be performed afterward to check for the HPV virus.
Dr. Daemon Jones