HPV (Human Papillomavirus)

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HPV or Human Papillomavirus is the name given to a group of over 100 related viruses. A virus is a very tiny organism that requires special microscopes to view them. Viruses require a host cell. When the virus acquires its host cell, it then takes over that cell, reprograms it and it then reproduces more of the virus.

Since there are so many strains of HPV, each strain is given a number. This is then referred to as an HPV type. HPV gets its name from the fact that many strains cause warts or papillomas.

Warts that appear on the hands, face and feet are included in the HPV family group. These strains are acquired from direct contact with an infected person or a contaminated surface.

The strains of HPV most people are concerned with are the ones classified as sexually transmitted. HPV genital infections are currently the number one most common STD in the world.

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Understanding HPV

According to the CDC, approximately 20 million people worldwide are currently infected with HPV. By age 50, at least 80% of women will have acquired a genital HPV infection.

HPV is also referred to as a ‘silent’ STD. Although some strains do cause genital warts, most strains have no symptoms at all. This is what makes HPV so contagious. With no symptoms, you unknowingly pass the virus on to your partner.

The HPV virus lives on the skin and mucus membranes. These mucus membranes include: the mouth, nose, vulva/vagina, anus, penis, and cervix.

Diagnosis of HPV generally occurs with abnormal pap smears and visual diagnosis of genital HPV warts. There is currently no testing available in the United States for men, even though men can carry and pass on this infection.

There is also no current cure for HPV. Most times, the HPV infection clears up and goes away on its own.

The only way to completely prevent HPV infections is to abstain from any sexual contact. Having a long-term relationship with a person who has had few to no sexual partners decreases your chances of acquiring HPV, but there is no way to determine if your partner is already infected.

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Preventing HPV

On June 8th, 2006, the US Food and Drug Administration approved the use of Gardasil, the 1st vaccine of its kind to help prevent four strains of HPV. This vaccine would have to be given before a young girl becomes sexually active. The current target age range is 9-12 years of age. Several states currently have bills pending that deal with the question about whether should all girls be vaccinated. Gardasil is made to help protect girls and women from high risk strains 16 and 18, known to develop cervical cancer and strains 6 and 11, commons strains that develop genital warts.

Gardasil is constantly being monitored, as the long term effects and effectiveness has not been established.

The best defense for your health is routine yearly pap tests. Early detection of cervical changes is best. It is these cases that can easily be treated and have the best success rates. Since HPV in young women is so common, and abnormal cervical cells are not, women are not routinely tested for HPV during a pap test. The HPV test is generally only given to women over the age of 30.

If you’ve acquired HPV, remember that you’ve done nothing wrong. Having HPV means you’ve been exposed to a common virus.

The types of HPV that cause warts on your hands and feet do not cause genital warts or cervical changes. The same rings true for genital warts. These HPV strains do not generally spread to other areas of the body.

Most sexually active partners share HPV until the immune system gets rid of the virus or suppresses it. Since there are so many strains of HPV, becoming immune to one strain does not protect you from another.

It is also important to remember that a diagnosis of HPV is not a reliable and positive indicator of unfaithfulness.

Having HPV is not the end of the world, and it should not affect your life long-term. Having routine pap smears to detect early changes in your cervix is something every woman should already be doing. Every major medical authority in the world supports routine cervical testing.