Genital HPV (short for human papilloma viruses) are a group of more than 100 strains of the most common sexually transmitted infection that occur in the genital, oral and anal regions. Although it usually disappears on its own, infection from two high-risk strains of the virus causes 70 percent of all cervical cancer. Each year, approximately 12,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and Latinas are twice as likely to develop the disease in comparison to non-Hispanic white women. Our death rate is also 50 percent higher, so arm yourself with knowledge and a proactive stance to avoid becoming part of this scary statistic.
Here’s what you need to know.
Regular Pap tests can detect changes in cervical cells early on and abnormal results are usually followed by an HPV test. Once you turn 30, you can request that both tests be done during your annual exam.
Apart from limiting the amount of sexual partners you have and engaging in safe sex, you can also opt for the HPV vaccines. Gardasil and Cervarix are both administered in three injections over a six-month period and prevent infection from the two high-risk strains of the virus (Gardasil also protects against two others that cause 90 percent of genital warts). Gardasil is given between the ages of 9 and 26 while Cervarix is offered to 10-to-25 year olds. Initial studies indicate that both vaccines provide immunity for at least eight years, but research is still be conducted to determine exactly how long you’ll be protected.
HPV Quick Facts
- More than 20 million people in the U.S. are infected with HPV, six million more are newly infected every year and at least 50 percent of sexually active people will contract HPV at some point in their lives.
- Condoms, though helpful, do not fully protect against HPV infections because they don’t cover all areas during skin-to-skin contact.
- Once your body fights off one strain of the virus, you could be protected from future infections with that same strain, but remember there are more than 100 strains of HPV.
- Both men and women can get HPV infections and there are no symptoms for the STI unless it’s advanced. Some strains of the virus can also cause genital warts, but these are not the ones that could lead to cervical cancer.
- There are no treatments for the HPV strains that cause cervical cancer (so antibiotics won’t work in this case), but there are ways to treat your cervical cells if they’re affected.
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