It’s the virus that manifests itself in more than 100 different forms — about 30 of which are transmitted sexually — and can cause problems like genital warts and cervical cancer. Or it can cause no problems at all. Human papillomavirus (HPV) is still a mystery to many men and women, so here are some of the facts according to the Center for Disease Control:
• No less than 50 percent of sexually-active people will contract some form of HPV during their lives
• Some forms of HPV can cause cancers of the anus, vulva, penis and other genital areas
• Your body naturally fights off many forms of HPV after a certain period of time, but approximately 10 percent of women with “high-risk” HPV will stay infected and face an increased risk of cervical cancer
• Because each strain is different, a person can be infected with multiple types of HPV simultaneously
• If you ever contract HPV, although signs and symptoms may disappear, you remain infected with the virus and can pass it along to others
• Someone who is infected may not show signs or symptoms for months after sexual contact
• Rarely, genital warts can cause complications during pregnancy and can develop inside the child’s throat, causing a condition that usually requires treatment
What can you do to avoid coming in contact with HPV? The only failsafe method is to abstain from all sexual contact. If that isn’t realistic, there are not very many other ways to stay safe. Condoms can reduce the risk, however if any part around the genitals is not covered, it is still possible to spread HPV. Avoiding sexual encounters with people who have had numerous partners also reduces your risk, though it is possible to contract the virus after even one sexual encounter. The biggest issue is that many people who carry the virus are unaware that they are infected, so it continues to spread.
There is some hope to protect yourself and your daughters from several strains of HPV through the Gardasil® vaccine. Doctors recommend that it be administered before becoming sexually active; it is safe for girls as young as 9.