How much do you know about human papillomavirus (HPV)? Many people don’t realize that HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the U.S. In 2018, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that there were about 43 million HPV infections, with 13 million new infections in that year alone.
Most sexually active people will get HPV at some point if they aren’t vaccinated. If you’re one of the people who didn’t get the chance to get vaccinated before they started having sex, it’s important to arm yourself with information in order to reduce your risk of becoming infected. Learn more about the key facts about HPV to better protect yourself.
HPV is a virus that spreads through skin-to-skin contact. Most commonly, this occurs through vaginal, anal, or oral sex. This virus can be transmitted even if an infected individual has no symptoms. In addition, symptoms of HPV can appear years after infection, so it can be difficult to figure out where you go it.
HPV in Children
There is a small risk that HPV may transmit to an infant during birth. Research suggests that, because the immune system usually clears the infection on its own, this is unlikely to occur. In cases where an infant does contract an HPV infection during birth, symptoms may include genital warts or lesions in the mouth.
HPV infections outside of birth are associated with sexual contact. Therefore, if a young child develops HPV symptoms, it may be an indicator of child sexual abuse.
Types of HPV
There are two types of HPV:
- Low-risk strains, which may cause warts to develop
- High-risk strains, which may cause cancer
Both types of HPV may not produce any symptoms. In fact, most cases of HPV don’t cause any health problems and clear on their own within two years. HPV is the cause of most cervical cancers. Less commonly, an HPV infection may lead to cancer of the vulva, vagina, penis, anus, or oropharynx.
Treatments for HPV
There is no cure currently available for HPV. However, there are some possible treatments for the possible outcomes of persistent infections.
- Warts caused by HPV: Genital warts may be treated with medicated solutions or creams or freezing with liquid nitrogen, or simple surgical procedures. Some prescription medications are available as well, including imiquimod (Aldara, Zyclara), podofilox (Condylox), trichloroacetic acid, and podophyllin.
- Cancer caused by HPV: Surgical procedures can help to remove pre-cancerous abnormal cervical cellsresulting from an HPV infection. More aggressive cancer treatments may need to be used if the disease has progressed further.
- Nutrients and Supplementation: Nutrients such as folate and vitamins B6 and B12 may have a role in regulating viral integration and gene stability due to their involvement in DNA synthesis, repair and methylation. Folate, vitamins A, C and E, and the active Vitamin D metabolite are reported to have the ability to inhibit cell proliferation, prevent DNA damage and enhance immunologic functions. A study at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston Medical School found the supplement active hexose correlated compound (AHCC) can eliminate the HPV virus.
HPV Risk Factors
Although HPV is very common, there are certain risk factors which affect an individual’s chances of becoming infected, including:
- Several sexual partners: The more sex partners you have, the higher the risk of infection. Your risk also increases if you have sex with someone who has had multiple sex partners.
- Unprotected sex: Using condoms lowers your risk of becoming infected. However, it’s important to note that condoms do not provide 100% protection against HPV.
- Weakened immune system: People with weakened immune systems have a greater risk of infection.
- Broken skin: It’s easier to acquire an infection if your skin has been punctured or opened in the area where skin-to-skin contact takes place.
- Not being vaccinated: The HPV vaccine is the best way to avoid some of the most dangerous strains of the virus. However, it is most effective in people who are not yet sexually active.
Use this information to help protect you and your sex partners against HPV transmission.
- Genital HPV Infection – Fact Sheet: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2022.
- Basic Information about HPV and Cancer: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2021.
- Human Papillomavirus (HPV): Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, 2022.
- HPV Infection: Mayo Clinic, 2022.
- Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Vaccination: What Everyone Should Know: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2021.