Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a virus that can be passed from one person to another through intimate skin-to-skin or sexual contact. There are many different strains of the virus, some are more dangerous than others. HPV is a different virus than HIV and HSV (herpes). 79 million Americans, most in their late teens and early 20s, are infected with HPV. There are many different types of HPV, some are capable of causing serious health problems which include genital warts and cancers. But some vaccines can stop these health problems from happening.
According to the hse.ie each year in Ireland:
- HPV causes 406 cancers in both women and men
- over 6,500 women need hospital treatment for pre-cancer of the cervix
- 300 women get cervical cancer
- 90 women die from cervical cancer
HPV can also cause cancers of the:
- mouth and throat (oropharynx)
- anus (rectum)
The HPV virus can also cause a range of pre-cancerous lesions (abnormal cells) in both men and women.
How does HPV spread?
You can get HPV by having vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone who has the virus. It is most commonly spread during vaginal or anal sex. HPV can be passed even when an infected person has no signs or symptoms.
Anyone sexually active can get HPV, even if you have had sex with only one person. You also can develop symptoms years after you have sex with someone infected. This makes it hard to know when you first became infected.
HPV in women
It’s estimated that 80 percent of women will contract at least one type of HPV during their lifetime. Like with men, many women that get HPV don’t have any symptoms and the infection goes away without causing any health problems.
Some women may notice that they have genital warts, which can appear inside the vagina, in or around the anus, and on the cervix or vulva.
Make an appointment with your doctor if you notice any unexplained bumps or growths in or around your genital area.
How can I avoid HPV and the health problems it can cause?
You can do several things to lower your chances of getting HPV.
Get vaccinated. The HPV vaccine is safe and effective, it can protect against diseases (including cancers) caused by HPV when given in the recommended age groups. The Centre for Disease Control recommends HPV vaccination at age 11 or 12 years (or can start at age 9 years) and for everyone through age 26 years, if not vaccinated already.
For more information on the recommendations, please see:
Get screened for cervical cancer. Routine screening for women aged 21 to 65 years old can prevent cervical cancer.
If you are sexually active
- Use latex condoms the right way every time you have sex. This can lower your chances of getting HPV. But HPV can infect areas not covered by a condom – so condoms may not fully protect against getting HPV;
- Be in a mutually monogamous relationship – or have sex only with someone who only has sex with you.