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Things You Need to Know about HPV

The human papillomavirus (or HPV) is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases. In fact, studies estimate exposure to the virus in the United States alone is around 90% among sexually active people. It is important to note, the virus doesn’t always have symptoms (as is the case with many types of STDs) so it can remain undetected for years before someone knows they have been carrying it around for so long.

A popular assumption is almost every sexually active person might have sexual contact with someone who has HPV. So, at some point everyone is at risk of exposure. It is so common, about 79 million Americans could be infected with some strain of the infection. However, in most cases, the infection just disappears on its own.

There are more than 200 known strains of the virus and around 40% of them can affect the genitals. As there are so many strains, each of them does something different. The strains affecting the genital region can produce several ailments, ranging from genital warts to something more serious, such as cervical cancer. In some occasions, HPV can even lead to vaginal or penile cancer.

Because HPV often goes undetected, most people will never know if they have been infected at some point. A common sign of infection is the development of genital warts. These can occur like bulbous bumps, flat sores or small protrusions looking like stems. By the way, genital warts are more common in women than in men. However, several other symptoms can be present in women, including abnormal changes in the cervical cells. But this can be detected after a pap spear, so it is important to get them done even if they are not the most pleasant experience.

Nowadays, three vaccines against HPV are available to protect the body from the two strains causing around 70% of the reported instances of cervical cancer. Another vaccine can protect you against the two strains of HPV causing 90% of the genital warts.

The vaccine is best for those ages nine through 26 under the assumption people in their mid-twenties are at risk of exposure to HPV at some point in their sexual lives. The research on its efficacy on older people has not been as extensive.

Although condoms help decrease the risk of transmission, they do not offer bulletproof protection against it. Remember, HPV spreads through skin-to-skin contact, so condoms are not 100% safe. The sure way of stopping HPV from escalating into cervical cancer is with regular checkups with your doctor. In addition to pap smears identifying abnormal cells, HPV tests can also identify recent infections of the virus.

HPV is not curable per se. But people who are healthy overall can keep it in check. Having a healthy and strong immune system is a great help. Getting enough exercise, drinking plenty water and not smoking will definitely help build a strong immune system. This can help the virus go away and decreases the chances of HPV developing into genital warts or cancer.

However, if you have genital warts then be sure to seek treatment. This can be done in a number of ways, from topical treatments to surgery; don’t hesitate to talk about it with your doctor.

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