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Sharing the Human Papillomavirus: The Most Common STD

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Odds are that you now have or have had a sexually transmitted disease but don’t know it. Genital human papillomavirus, commonly known as HPV, infects nearly every man and woman at some point during his or her lifetime.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, there are more than 40 HPV types that can infect the genital areas of males and females. These HPV types can also infect the mouth and throat.

The reason most people who become infected with HPV don't know they have it is because most people don’t develop symptoms or health problems. In 90% of cases, the body’s immune system clears HPV naturally within two years. In the meantime though, you can innocently pass the virus to your partner. HPV may be detected fairly soon after exposure, or may not be found until many years later.

The virus is so common that having only a single lifetime partner does not assure protection. Most sexually active couples share HPV until the immune response suppresses the infection.

Monogamous partners are not likely to reinfect each other with the same virus multiple times. When HPV infection goes away, the immune system will remember that HPV type and keep a new infection of the same HPV type from occurring again. However, because there are many different types of HPV, becoming immune to one HPV type may not protect you from getting HPV again if exposed to another HPV type. Condoms offer some, but not complete protection from HPV and increasing numbers of partners increases the risk of getting HPV.

The ugly side of HPV is that certain types can cause genital warts in men and women, and although rare, these genital warts can develop in the throat, a condition called recurrent respiratory papillomatosis or RRP.

Other HPV types can cause cervical cancer. These types can also cause other, less common but serious cancers, including cancers of the vulva, vagina, penis, anus, and head and neck (tongue, tonsils and throat).

It is important to note that the types of HPV that can cause genital warts are not the same as the types that can cause cancer.

Add a Comment4 Comments

Expert HERWriter Guide Blogger

Anon - Thanks for writing. You said you were 17 when you caught HPV. Would you mind sharing how old you are now, and any advice you would give to teens who might think they don't need to worry about this? Thanks! Pat

February 9, 2010 - 5:04pm
EmpowHER Guest

It's very true. I caught HPV when I was 17 with only two partners and we used condoms. Luckely It was found quickly and we keep an eye on it with regular check ups. I suggest everyone get tested and looked at yearly even if you haven't been active in a while. Here's a list of free testing sites so there is no excuse.


February 9, 2010 - 3:22pm

Thanks Pat. I believe we need to stay vigilant when it comes to our health. Of course, there are illnesses we can't possibly foresee or prevent, but so much of our well-being depends on us and the choices we make. The take home message is screening does save lives. It may not be foolproof, but early detection does make a huge difference.

January 12, 2010 - 8:19am
Expert HERWriter Guide Blogger

Hi Lynette - Your honesty in telling us that there's no way to know who will get HPV that will develop cancer or other health problems is refreshing, and another reminder that we really need to pay attention to our bodies and be aware of changes. Thanks for this comprehensive overview. Pat

January 7, 2010 - 5:36pm
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.