The most common sexually-transmitted infection is one you might not have ever hear of — genital human papillomavirus, or HPV. HPV is passed on through oral sex, vaginal sex and anal sex, and straight and gay couples are equally susceptible to it. There are more than 40 different kinds of the human papillomavirus, and you can have more than one HPV infection.
Human Papillomavirus Incidence
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 79 million Americans have human papillomavirus, and about 14 million become infected every year. In fact, most sexually-active men and women will get at least one kind of HPV during their lives.
HPV Symptoms and Complications
Most people who have human papillomavirus don’t know they have it. They don’t experience any symptoms from HPV and their HPV infection doesn’t cause any health problems.
For some, however, human papillomavirus does cause serious health issues, usually in the form of genital warts and cervical cancer. About 2.5 percent of those infected with HPV develop genital warts, and more than 10,000 women in the U.S. develop cervical cancer that’s caused by HPV.
Your physician can help you treat genital warts. If you leave them untreated, there’s no way to tell what will happen. They might stay the same, they could go away, or they might multiply and grow larger.
Women who get Pap tests and follow up on the test results can detect problems that human papillomavirus might cause before they happen, such as cervical cancer. If a woman develops cervical cancer, it’s much more treatable when diagnosed early.
Human Papillomavirus Vaccine
While there are tests to screen for cervical cancer, there’s no test to determine if you have human papillomavirus.
However, if you’re under 26 years of age, there is a safe vaccine that can protect men and women against some of the diseases, such as cancer, caused by human papillomavirus. The vaccination process consists of three shots given over a period of six months, and you must receive all three shots to be fully vaccinated. The CDC recommends that all boys and girls should receive the vaccination at age 11 or 12, and receive a booster between ages 21 and 26. People under 26 who have a compromised immune system can receive the vaccination if they didn’t get it when they were younger.
For more information, read the CDC Fact Sheet on genital HPV infection.