LET’S GET INTO IT: HPV
Let’s talk about HPV. First of all, did you know that there are more than 100 different strains of human papillomavirus (HPV)? Some of them cause warts on your hands or feet, some cause warts on your genitals, and some cause abnormal cells on the cervix and can lead to cancer. The good news is that most strains of HPV are not a big deal.
The important part is that regular Pap tests can catch the strains of HPV that cause cancer early and get them taken care of. So while HPV is one of the STDs that isn’t “curable” (more on that below), it’s totally manageable and most likely won’t cause serious damage to your body.
EVERYTHING YOU WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT HPV
HOW COMMON IS HPV?
HPV is extremely common. In fact, some studies estimate that as many as 80 percent of all sexually active people will get it at some point in their lives! That’s basically everyone. It’s safe to assume that if you’re a sexually active adult, you’ve been exposed to HPV at some point.
HOW IS HPV SPREAD?
HPV is spread via skin-to-skin contact. (Basically, you get it from rubbing up on each other.) Unlike a lot of other STDs, HPV doesn’t live in bodily fluids, so you can’t get it from someone’s pre-cum, cum, or vaginal fluid.
WHAT DO HPV SYMPTOMS LOOK LIKE?
Different strains of HPV cause different symptoms. If you have warts on your hands or feet — that’s HPV. If you have warts on your genitals — that’s HPV. It’s different strains of the same virus and your doctor will treat them in similar ways.
Unfortunately, high-risk HPV — the kind that can cause cancer — doesn’t have any symptoms. But regular screenings (including Pap smears, for people with cervixes) can detect pre-cancerous cells early and get you treated.
HOW DO LOWER MY CHANCES OF GETTING HPV?
You can lower your chances of getting HPV by using condoms. But because HPV is a skin-to-skin STD, you can’t eliminate your chances of getting HPV if you’re having sex. Internal condoms (also known as “female condoms”) can further lower your chances of getting HPV because they cover more of the anus or vulva, depending on where you’re using it.
IS HPV CURABLE?
There is no cure for HPV but for many people, the disease goes away on its own. For others, it can develop into health problems like genital warts or cancerous cells.
But the symptoms of HPV are totally treatable! If you get regular Pap smears, your doctor should be able to catch any pre-cancerous cells early. And if you see a wart, your doctor can diagnosis and remove it.
IS THERE A VACCINE FOR HPV?
So this is pretty cool — there’s actually a vaccine for HPV. The CDC recommends that all children age 11 and 12 get the vaccine. If you didn’t get it when you were younger, they say young men up to age and 21 and young women up to age 26 should get it. The HPV vaccine protects against the strains of HPV that cause cancer.
CAN I GET TESTED FOR HPV?
Yes, but only some types and they only test people with a cervix. Weird right? Since HPV is common and typically goes away, doctors are most concerned with detecting the strains that cause cancer. Typically, they’ll conduct an HPV test at the same time or right after a Pap test.
Interested in learning more? Read about the HPV test here.
ARE HPV AND HERPES THE SAME?
This is a common mistake, but HPV and herpes are not the same. Herpes is caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). It’s also spread by skin-to-skin contact, but it doesn’t cause cancer and instead of warts, it usually shows up as sores.