Many people get surprised that HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the United States. The diversity of the virus can be seen in the more than 200 distinct strains, affecting over 42 million individuals across America. Shockingly, an estimated 13 million new infections get reported annually.
While not all strains of HPV are sexually transmitted, a significant number are spread via sexual contact. These variants can give rise to genital warts. Unfortunately, they may also lead to certain types of cancers. It is reasonable to question whether your need to seek medical intervention for HPV, or whether the virus will naturally dissipate over time. The response is complex and depends largely on the particular HPV variant and your overall health.
In this article, we will shed some light on various aspects of HPV.
Why HPV is so Prevalent?
HPV’s prevalence is so significant that researchers believe nearly all individuals will contract it at some point during their lives. The virus spreads through close contact. Moreover, sexual transmission is common for many of its strains.
The majority of HPV types remain asymptomatic, which means that people can unwittingly spread the virus due to a lack of noticeable signs or symptoms. Most of these strains are classified as low-risk, meaning they typically don’t lead to severe health complications.
However, there are specific HPV strains that can cause health concerns. Two specific strains are known to cause almost all instances of genital warts, which can be annoying, albeit not detrimental to your health.
Approximately a dozen high-risk strains of HPV have the potential to cause cancer. Two strains, in particular, have been connected to the majority of cancer cases related to HPV. These include HPV strains 16 and 18.
The Process of HPV Testing
Because the high-risk HPV strains may not show symptoms immediately, regular screenings are essential for maintaining health. This is why doctors recommends an HPV test as part of routine Pap smears.
Pap tests are instrumental in the early detection of precancerous and abnormal cells before they become cancerous. Cervical cancer is the most commonly occurring cancer as a result of HPV. It can take years to develop. Fortunately, it is highly treatable and has excellent outcomes if detected early.
Note that an abnormal test result occur could warrant further testing with a colposcopy. This procedure is similar to a Pap smear but uses intense light to facilitate easier examination and biopsy of any abnormal cells.
Can HPV Resolve on its Own Without Intervention?
As mentioned before, most cases of HPV will clear up on their own within two years. However, it’s essential to understand that not all HPV infections are alike. For example, some patients will require medical intervention.
Here are a few factors that contribute to the persistence of HPV:
- Having a weak immune system
- Contracting a strain of HPV responsible for genital warts
- Contracting a high-risk HPV strain
Approximately 10% of individuals with HPV contract a strain associated with cancer. These strains are usually asymptomatic and do not cause noticeable health issues until they instigate cellular changes, reinforcing the importance of regular screenings.