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The Truth About HPV

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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.

Add a Comment10 Comments

EmpowHER Guest

You say it clears, then you say for life. It is uniformed people like you that perpetuate the anxiety of this virus. I have spoken and been evaluated by top virologist in the country, they all say that the infections is suppressed/cleared. Even the Merck manual on Genital warts states that this is the case. I also have a personal email sent to me by Dr Diane Harper, a leading HPV DNA expert. She states that after warts have cleared for awhile, months to a years, you are no longer contagious. Telling sexual partners that you one had HPV is ridiculous, most likely they will experience an HPV episode in their lives, and then blame you, although it is extremely unlikely they contracted the virus from you. Please stop spreading bad information, it is more damaging to people than spreading this virus. Everyone! Do not listen to this lady.

September 4, 2015 - 9:52am
EmpowHER Guest

very imformative - next year i will be choosing whether to have the HPV vaccine, and i am still indecisive. my friend in year 8 didn't have it and my schoolmates have mixed views.

March 2, 2010 - 9:02am

I'm not sure exactly what you are trying to say, but to answer your question, no, of course I am not on Merck's payroll. I have had many very close friends develop one, two, and even three different types of HPV, most of which could have been prevented by the vaccination. One of them was developing cervical cancer, and other friends of mine know young women (early 20s) who already have cervical cancer from HPV. So my investment is personal, not financial, and I believe strongly in the vaccination (as do many health professionals).

If you have any concerns as to the accuracy of this post, or any others of mine, I'd love for you to contact me so that I can provide you with the nationally-recognized sources and doctors that I use.

In addition, you may be interested in a book by Shobha S. Krishnan M.D. titled "The HPV Vaccine Controversy Book: Sex, Cancer, God and Politics." It provides a multifaceted view of the vaccination with the support of many facts. I hope that once you have learned more about it, you will not think that writing about it positively is "guerrilla marketing."

April 22, 2009 - 2:26pm
EmpowHER Guest

Lauren are you on Merck's payroll? Because your posts sound like advertisements, or should I say guerrilla marketing, for the comapny. Keep pumping the Gardasil propaganda

April 22, 2009 - 2:10pm
EmpowHER Guest

It is very unlikely to pass along any strain of HPV virus once the body has been symptom free for 12 continuous months.

The two links you provide are from the most reputable sources, and confirm my earlier post.

from the CDC.


"In 90% of cases, the body’s immune system clears the HPV infection naturally within two years. This is true of both high-risk and low-risk types."

from your ASHA link provided.


"6. Myth: If I have genital warts or dysplasia, I will have recurrences for the rest of my life.

Warts and dysplasia do recur in some cases, but by no means all. When they recur, they show varying persistence: Some people experience just one more episode, and others several. The good news for most people is that with time, the immune system seems to gain some mastery over the virus, making recurrences less frequent and often eliminating them entirely within about two years."

Virus' show varying persistence. For example, Herpes virus vs the common cold. Cold sores can and do reoccur for the duration of ones life. The common cold virus does not. Each new "cold" is a new strain of virus, because the bodies immune system gains control over the weaker common cold virus, and suppresses and clears the virus.

To say each virus acts the same way is inaccurate.

March 19, 2009 - 6:02pm

I appreciate your comment. However, the CDC and American Social Health Association (which is linked to by the CDC) disagree. Because it is a virus, HPV never leaves ones system. And it is ALWAYS possible to spread it to others, even if a person has no signs or symptoms. For this information, see the following links:

http://www.cdc.gov/STD/HPV/ and http://www.ashastd.org/hpv/hpv_learn_myths.cfm.

I think it is extremely dangerous to instruct people who have had HPV, especially one of the forms that cause genital warts or cancer, that it is safe for them to have unprotected sex without fear of spreading it to a partner. While this may not happen in all cases, the virus can lay dormant for months to years. So while a PAP smear may not come back abnormal after a certain amount of time due to our own bodies virus-fighting mechanisms, it is not EVER gone.

The forms that cause dysplasis especially can and do recur in some people. Same with genital warts. Anytime the immune system is compromised, there is a risk of recurrance. Misinformation like this likely contributes to why more than half of all sexually active people will acquire the virus in their lifetimes.

It is immensely important to remember that a virus, by definition, never leaves the body's system. And while it can go into "remission," it remains forever.

March 19, 2009 - 12:02pm
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Lauren Proper)

You are so misinformed it literally hurts my brain. Just google Genital Warts Merck Manual, and get informed.

September 4, 2015 - 9:55am
EmpowHER Guest

I believe the statement "If you ever contract HPV, although signs and symptoms may disappear, you remain infected with the virus and can pass it along to others," is misleading.

Leading doctors in this field feel differently.

Is HPV a lifelong virus or will it eventually go away?

A. What can be said with certainty is that the most sensitive tests available--tests that detect HPV DNA in genital tissues--become negative within 6-12 months in over 90% of infected persons. We also know that once the test becomes negative, the person is immune to catching the same HPV type again, which is further evidenced that the infection was truly eradicated by the immune system. However, it remains possible that HPV DNA (or maybe even intact virus particles) persists in small amounts, too small for detection by the available tests. Whether this happens at all, or in what proportion of infected persons, cannot be known with certainty with available technology. But if infection persists, it almost certainly is in amounts to small to be transmitted to another person and probably will never re-grow to cause warts or precancerous growth. But in most persons the most infections are controlled by the immune system and most experts believe they are truly cured. For "quick and dirty" responses by clinicians like me, the evidence is good enough to say "cure" and to reassure our patients accordingly.


March 19, 2009 - 11:34am

I'm sorry to hear that. Unfortunately, the Gardasil vaccine does have a variety of unpleasant symptoms. I, too, had a very negative reaction, especially to my second injection. I developed flu-like symptoms each time and severe muscle aches that lasted several days. However, I believe it was completely worth it. Just within the last year, I have had several friends contract the strains of HPV that cause both genital warts AND cancer, with one developing moderate dysplasia of the cervix that required intense medical treatment. Very scary.

Just so that you know, the Gardasil vaccine DOES NOT contain a live or dead strain of the virus like many vaccines. It could be that your daughter caught something right around the same time. I hope that you are able to figure out the cause of her illness and that she begins feeling better soon.

March 18, 2009 - 10:57am
EmpowHER Guest

Following the Gardasil injections, my daughter developed a gradual onset of symptoms, including debilitating joint pain, arthritis, fatigue, severe headaches with vomiting and light sensitivity, and dizziness, that carried on for more than 12 months. Only following treatment with high doses of prednisone, have some of the symptoms settled down enough that she can attend class. The symptoms, however, have not gone away. The specialist does NOT know the cause and her many tests are normal.

March 18, 2009 - 10:13am
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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.

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