How do you get HPV?

(FYI this is a guide for women!)

HPV or human papillomavirus is a very common virus that is estimated to infect over 70% of people over their lifetime.  It primarily affects the mouth, anal region or vaginal/cervical area.   Most people who are infected with HPV have no signs or symptoms, and in most cases, never develop any problems caused by HPV.

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HPV spreads by skin-to-skin contact, including touching genitals with hands or mouth, vaginal sexual intercourse (vaginal sex), anal sex, or any other contact involving the genital area.

While condoms can help, they aren’t completely effective in providing protection from HPV infection.

Transmission is does not happen by touching things such as seats or toilets.

The risk of HPV exposure increases with the number of sexual partners you have and the number of partners your partners have.

In 10 to 20 percent of women HPV infection remains and the woman has an increased risk cervical pre-cancer and then cancer. It often takes 20 to 25 years for a new HPV infection to cause cervical cancer. Regular testing is important in detecting abnormal cell development in the cervix, vagina and mouth, before cancer develops.

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Tests for HPV include:

  • At home tests – a vaginal swab that looks for cancerous strains (see below) of virus in the vagina.  (Recommended once per year)
  • PAP Smear – a physician takes a sample of cells from the cervix and looks at them under the microscope, looking for abnormal cells. (Recommended once every three years, unless you get abnormal results.  In that case, go with your doctor’s recommendation.)

Understanding “Cancerous Strains”

There are over 100 strains of HPV, and more are constantly being discovered.  Most are harmless but there are some that need to be monitored:

  • HPV 16 and 18 are the high-risk types and cause about 70 percent cases of cervical cancer.
  • HPV types 31, 33, 45, 52, and 58 are also high-risk types, causing about 19 percent of cervical cancers.
  • HPV types 6 and 11 can cause about 90 percent of genital warts. These types are annoying but aren’t high risk because they do not cause cervical cancer.

The vaccine Gardasil-9 helps to protect agains Types 6, 11, 16, 18, 31, 33, 45, 52, and 58 and is recommended for girls (and boys) and may be suitable for some young adults (under age 26).