Genital HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection. In addition, there are more than 40 human papillomavirus types that can infect the genital area.
HPV is passed through genital contact and oral sex. A person can become infected with more than one type of HPV.
HPV can infect the genital areas as well as the mouth and throat. According to the Genital HPV Infection - Fact Sheet by the CDC, “HPV is so common that nearly all sexually active men and women get it at some point in their lives.”
Often times, the virus goes away on its own and does not cause any health issues.
In the unfortunate situation that it does not go away on its own, HPV can cause cancer of the vulva, vagina, penis or throat. HPV can be passed on to partners even if the infected partner displays no signs or symptoms.
Similar to HIV, the HPV virus can remain dormant for years after the initial infection.
A study by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (2003-2006) surrounding the prevalence of genital human papillomavirus among females in the United States indicated that the highest HPV prevalence occurred between ages 20-24.
Pregnant women with genital HPV can pass the virus to their babies during delivery. These children can develop warts in their throats, a condition known as recurrent respiratory papillomatosis (RRP) or juvenile-onset recurrent respiratory papillomatosis (JORRP).
HPV can also cause changes in the cells of the cervix, leading to cervical cancer. Since there is no treatment for the virus itself, a recommended prevention measure is for women ages 21-65 to have routine screening for cervical cancer.
Pap tests can be done on all women, HPV tests are only recommended for women 30 years of age or older.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends vaccinations for males and females as early as ages 11 or 12. HPV vaccinations are safe and effective and are administered as shots over the course of three doses. It is crucial to get all three doses. However, if you have not been previously vaccinated, catch-up vaccinations are available for males up to age 21 and females up to age 26.
About 79 million Americans are currently infected with HPV with 14 million new infections reported each year. It is predicted that each year, about 21,000 cases of HPV-related cancers can be prevented by getting vaccinated.
There are other prevention measures that can be taken such as using latex condoms, but condoms may not provide full protection if other areas of the body are infected.
Vaccination can prevent mother-to-child transmission, genital warts and cancer. The high prevalence and rate of HPV infections indicates the need for women to protect themselves against the virus by getting vaccinated.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Figure 45. Human Papillomavirus — Prevalence of High-risk and Low-risk Types Among Females Aged 14 – 59 Years, National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2003 – 2006. Web. 22 January 2015
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Genital HPV Infection-Fact Sheet. Web. 22 January 2015.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. What is HPV? Web. 22 January 2015
Reviewed January 26, 2015
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith