H-P-What? The deets on HPV
The buzz is out about HPV. What you may not know is how this sexually transmitted infection (STI) gets around, how to find out if you have it or how the vaccine works. Following is a list of common myths — as well as the facts — about HPV.
HPV is checked for in routine testing for STIs like chlamydia or gonorrhea, as well as regular blood tests.
HPV is NOT checked for in routine testing for STIs like chlamydia or gonorrhea or regular blood tests, though genital warts may be found during a visual inspection. The good news is that most people who acquire HPV when they first become sexually active will clear the virus! Because HPV is usually harmless in young adults, female Pap tests/smears (testing of the cervical cells) are no longer recommended until 21 years of age.
There are more than 100 strains of HPV, the most common being 6 and 11, which cause genital warts but are otherwise benign. Due to their often microscopic size, these warts may not be visible to the naked eye, and many people with HPV are not aware they are infected. There are many other types of HPV that can result in an “abnormal” Pap, but individual strains are not identified by this test. (Note: Specific HPV typing at this stage is expensive and has not been determined to be useful.) Depending on Pap results, a follow-up visit with your health care provider may be needed.
The HPV vaccine is controversial: It is too new, and may be ineffective or dangerous.
While most women who become infected with HPV will never be diagnosed with cervical cancer, the HPV vaccine is the first of its kind to protect against the most common HPV strains that cause this type of cancer. The vaccine is also beneficial in avoiding the surveillance needed if Pap results are abnormal. The most local adverse reaction is pain at the injection site, redness and swelling.
HPV stays with you forever.
Good news! The HPV virus will be cleared in most people by their immune system.
The HPV vaccination series must be given before a woman becomes sexually active.
While it is preferable to have the HPV vaccination series completed prior to becoming sexually active, it is recommended for both males and females between the ages of 9 and 26 and may also be given to older males and females. Ask your health care provider for more information about the HPV vaccine, or visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s web page on HPV for a comprehensive list of related topics.
Information provided by Krin Cosner, ARNP, SHCC