Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
What is it?
Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is an STI caused by a virus. There are many different types of HPV and it is a very common STI. Almost 1 in 4 people have a type of HPV and many of them never have symptoms. However, some types of HPV can develop into cancer.
How can someone get it?
People can get HPV from close skin-to-skin touching during sex, oral, anal, and vaginal sex. HPV can be spread even if someone doesn’t have any symptoms. People do not get HPV from touching toilets, hugging, or sharing utensils.
How can it be prevented?
There is a vaccine for HPV that prevents people from getting infected with the types of HPV that can cause cancer and genital warts. It is recommended that all people get this vaccine when they are 11 or 12. That is when the vaccine works best with people’s ability to protect themselves, the immune system. People who haven’t gotten the vaccine can get it up through age 26.
Some ways HPV can be prevented are
using condoms, internal condoms, or dental dams as a barrier between the bodies;
not having sex or being abstinent;
getting tested regularly, especially with new sexual partners, to know your status;
talking openly, honestly, and without judgment with sexual partners about STIs;
learning how to care of your health.
Many people do not have any symptoms of HPV and it goes away on its own. For a lot of people, their symptoms may show up years after they were infected, so it can be hard to know when they got infected.
If someone has symptoms they may be warts (bumps) in the genital area. They might be flat or raised and bumpy like cauliflower. They can be small or large. The warts are not cancer.
HPV can cause changes to the cervix that can turn into cancer. These types of HPV do not cause warts. These changes are found with a Pap smear, learn more in the section below.
Who should get tested?
People who have female reproductive systems ages 21 to 65 should be regularly screened to check for cervical cancer. The screening can help make sure someone is treated to prevent cancer from growing.
How is it tested?
There is no test to see if someone has HPV in the body. If someone has bumps on their genitals, a medical provider will determine if it is caused by HPV with a physical exam. A pap smear, when a scraping of skin is taken from the cervix, will test to see if there is anything abnormal that could be cervical cancer.
How is it treated?
There is no treatment for the virus itself but the good news is that in most cases, HPV goes away on its own and does not cause any health problems. The genital warts can be treated by you or your physician by freezing them or using a medication that kills them. If they are very large or painful, they can be removed.
The treatment for cancers depends on what type it is. You can learn more about that here.
Where to get checked?
If you are in Pueblo, Colorado, contact the Family Planning Clinic from Pueblo Department of Public Health and Environment.
English: Call (719) 583-4380. Monday to Friday 8:00 AM to 4:30 PM.
Español: Llama (719) 583-4376. Lunes a viernes 8:00 AM a 4:30 PM.
If you are somewhere else in the United States you can find other resources here.