What is HPV?
There are over 150 different types of Human Papillomavirus (HPV), but only a few of those cause genital warts. Other types of HPV can cause cervical cancer.
Who has it?
HPV, the virus that causes genital warts and abnormal pap smears, is the most common STD in the US. About 79 million Americans are currently infected with HPV (the virus), and about 14 million people become newly infected each year. HPV is so common that at least 75% of sexually active men and women will get it at some point in their lives. Most people fight off the virus on their own, but about 1% of all HPV-infected people develop genital warts. An even smaller number of women with HPV – about 11,000 women each year – develop cervical cancer if the HPV is untreated. HPV is also linked to other rare cancers of the penis, vulva, vagina, and anus.
How do you get HPV?
Any skin-to-skin contact with infected areas can pass along HPV, even if the person who has HPV doesn’t have any visible warts or other symptoms. You can also get it from oral, vaginal, or anal sex.
How do you know you have HPV?
Most people who have it don’t know it because they don’t have symptoms. Even people who have the type of HPV that causes genital warts might not see anything. Some people may see small bumps in or around the vagina, penis, or anus. The bumps may grow in bunches or clusters and they may itch.
How do you test for HPV?
There is currently no screening test for HPV itself or for warts.
For women, clinicians can do a simple test called a Pap smear to look for cervical abnormalities (pre-cancer or cancer). If you think you have warts, your doctor will look at your genitals using a bright light to see the warts.
Can you get rid of HPV?
Most of the time, HPV goes away on its own.
The warts may go away on their own, too. If they do not go away, or they are bothering you, your doctor can remove the warts. There are also some medicines that you can use at home that cause the warts to go away. Even if the warts go away or are removed, the virus may stay in your skin and can be spread to others.
How can you protect yourself from getting HPV?
HPV can infect areas that are not covered by a condom - so condoms may not fully protect against HPV.
The best way to avoid genital warts and other types of HPV is to get the HPV vaccine, which is available for youth between 9 and 26 years old for free or at a reduced cost at many clinics in California. The vaccine is a series of two to three shots, depending how old you are when you get the first shot.
The only method that is 100% effective in preventing STDs is abstinence, but if you’re sexually active, you can also decrease your risk of genital warts and other types of HPV by being mutually monogamous with someone who does not have HPV or who has had the HPV vaccine.
What’s the worst that could happen?
Some types of HPV can lead to cervical and other cancers. In rare cases, pregnant women may pass genital warts on to their baby, which could make the baby very sick.
The kinds of HPV that cause genital warts are different from the kinds that causes cervical cancer.