“Everyone” May Have It, but You Need the Vaccine

In 2019, it’s difficult to find ANYTHING that 80 percent of all women have in common.

Nonetheless, about 80 percent of women will get at least ONE type of human pappillomavirus (HPV) in their lifetime.

HPV is the most common (79 million Americans, most in their late teens and early 20s) sexually transmitted infection. 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 who is 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 who is infected. This makes it hard to know when you first became infected. Consequently, many women do not know they have HPV because it usually has no symptoms and usually goes away on its own.

Harmless enough? Not so much – the greatest risk is the that HPV can not only cause genital warts, but it can lead to cervical cancer and puts you at risk for numerous other cancers including cancer of the vulva, vagina, penis, or anus. It can also cause cancer in the back of the throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils. Every year, approximately 19,400 women and 12,100 men are affected by cancers caused by HPV. Even with screening and treatment, more than 4,000 women die from cervical cancer.

While there is no test to find out a person’s “HPV status” nor is there an approved HPV test to find HPV in the mouth or throat. There are HPV tests that can be used to screen for cervical cancer. These tests are only recommended for screening in women aged 30 years and older. HPV tests are not recommended to screen men, adolescents, or women under the age of 30 years.

The good news: There are things you can do to prevent HPV.

  • Use latex condoms 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.
  • The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the HPV vaccine to prevent HPV-related diseases, including cervical cancer in women.

HPV vaccineExperts recommend that most people get the HPV vaccine at age 11 or 12 (however, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the HPV vaccine for people ages 9 through 45 – -though experts do not recommend the HPV vaccine for pregnant women). The HPV vaccine works best when you get it before you have any type of sexual contact with someone else.

If you are 45 or younger and never had the HPV vaccine, or did not get all of the HPV shots, ask your doctor or nurse about getting vaccinated. When and how often you need HPV vaccine shots depends on your age and health history. Find a clinic near you where you can get the HPV vaccine.

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