What is HPV?
You’ve probably heard of it, but what is Human papillomavirus (HPV)? The most common STI, there are at least 14 million reported cases in the US each year, with many more people likely unaware that they have it. Depending on the strain, HPV is a virus that causes warts in various parts of the body. Some cases can cause genital warts and lead to cervical cancer, but it is usually harmless and will clear up on its own. Since there is no way of knowing who will develop a case that clears up or not, there are vaccines available to help prevent it. The most common HPV vaccine is Gardasil, which works to protect against the 9 types of HPV strains that cause the majority of cancers and complications.
As with other STIs, you should protect yourself from HPV with standard safe sex practices, such as using a condom or dental dam every time you have sex. However, some types of HPV can be passed through skin-to-skin contact in areas that are not covered by a condom.
If you find out that you do have HPV, it’s important to remember that most sexually active people will at some point be exposed to it. It does not mean that you did anything wrong, and it’s important to bring it up to new partners at the right time for you and discuss your options. In order to monitor it and any other potentially dangerous cell abnormalities in your cervix (the lower part of your uterus, that opens into the vagina), don’t skip your gynecologist appointments! Make sure to get both a pap smear, which checks for any abnormal cervical cells and an HPV test, which looks for DNA from HPV in your cervix cells, as they can be done at the same time.
For more resources and information on HPV risks and prevention, click HERE.