What is HPV?
HPV, or the Human Papillomavirus, is the most common sexually transmitted disease (STD) in the United States. There are over 150 strains of HPV – and while some go away on their own, others can cause genital warts, and some can even cause cancer. Unfortunately, there is no test to find out if you have HPV – but the good news is that the best way to protect yourself from HPV is to get vaccinated!
Questions? Learn more about HPV and the vaccine below:
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 people of all genders 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 people with uteruses with HPV 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.
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.
Who Should Get Vaccinated?
Experts recommend that all young people age 11 or 12 get two doses of the HPV vaccine. It is possible you were vaccinated in middle school, but if you were not or if you only got one dose, that’s ok! You can still catch up on the vaccine. The vaccine is an important way to protect against HVP at any age, it just means that for people age 15 or older, they will receive three doses of the vaccine spread over 6 months (your doctor will help you schedule the doses). It is recommended that anyone under the age of 26 get the vaccine but it is best to get it as soon as possible. Everyone should get the HPV vaccine if they are not having sex so they’re protected in the future.
How Do I Get Vaccinated?
For most teens, the HPV vaccine will be FREE! It is covered under most insurance and there are programs to help you if you don’t have insurance and can’t pay for the vaccine. In order to start the HPV vaccine, contact a clinic near you or make an appointment to visit your doctor. What’s most important is that you complete all the vaccine shots.
Do I Need My Parent’s Permission?
No! The HPV vaccine is considered a confidential, or private service. This means that teens can get the vaccine without their parents’ permission or without their parents finding out. However, it can always be helpful to talk to your parents or a trusted adult about your health care.
What Else Can I Do To Protect Against HPV?
The only method that is 100% effective in preventing STDs is abstinence (not having sex at all), 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.
If you choose to have sex, even if you have received the HPV vaccine or not, using a condom or barrier method can help protect against STDs and prevent pregnancy. Find free condoms near you! But 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!
What’s the worst that could happen?
Some types of HPV can lead to six different types of cancer. In rare cases, pregnant genital warts can be passed on to a baby during pregnancy, which could make the baby very sick.
The kinds of HPV that cause genital warts are different from the kinds that cause cancer.