Learning that you’ve contracted an STD is heartbreaking. It’s humiliating. You can’t help but feel ashamed, dirty and afraid. Some diseases are truly devastating and can alter your life permanently; others can be treated and become nothing more than a learning experience. HPV, or the Human Papillomavirus can fall into either category.
HPV: The Facts
HPV is a leading cause of cancer in women throughout the world. The CDC estimates that 20 million Americans are currently infected with the virus and that as many as six million new infections occur every year.
The primary vaccine against HPV is Gardasil, which is targeted at young women between the ages of 9 and 26. The vaccine is geared toward young women in part because as many as 12,000 new infections arise daily in girls ages 15-24.
Because the virus is so prevalent among the younger population, here is a few things that you should know about it:
1. It is one of the top contenders for Most Common STD for a number of reasons.
The first is that once a person contracts the virus, it can lay dormant for an extended period of time. What this means is that if you end up testing positive for it at some point in your life, it’s difficult to determine who gave it to you.
The second reason is that the virus spreads through genital-to-genital contact. Condoms help lower the risk of contracting the virus, but you can still become infected because they don’t fully cover the genital area.
Due to these factors, many statistics predict that more than half of all those who are sexually active will come into contact with the virus at some point in their lives. The only surefire way to prevent exposure is to not have sex. And honestly – who really wants to go their whole lives without getting any? (Nuns and monks excluded).
2. Guys can have it and not realize it because it doesn’t affect them the same way.
Instances of HPV-related cancer in men is much lower than it is in women. There is also no current method of detection for the virus for men unless they develop oral cancer or genital warts from it. However, the occurrence of HPV-related oral cancer is much higher in men than women.
3. There are hundreds of strains of HPV and many of them never show up on any test and never cause health problems.
It has been estimated that seventy percent of infections can clear up on their own within a year, while ninety percent of infections clear up in two. What all of this means is that you could potentially have the virus but you won’t test positive for it and you will never experience health problems from it.
4. The vaccine does not protect you against all 100 + strains.
It only guards against those types most likely to cause cancer or genital warts.
5. The risk of HPV actually developing into cancer is very, very small.
Less than half of the strains that exist are known as “high risk” types, which are the kinds that will develop into either genital warts or some form of cancer (cervical, oral, anal, you get the idea).
Out of those “high risk” types, only a dozen or so have been linked to cancer. If you happen to test positive for the virus and your doctor tells you that it is a high risk type, don’t panic. Just make sure you and your doctor monitor the situation. Most HPV related oral and cervical cancers develop due to lack of monitoring and treatment.
Again, there is a vaccine for HPV which effectively eliminates the risk of developing cervical cancer. The CDC recommends that the vaccine be administered to adolescents aged 11-12 years old and before they’re sexually active. It’s simple, safe and potentially life-altering.