HPV is Human Papilloma Virus, and is known as the most common sexually transmitted infection. It is most commonly found in people in their teens and early 20's but can be contracted by any person at any age. It can have little to no symptoms, but if and when it does, it often shows up as genital warts. It can also people with a cervix at risk for certain cancers.
Your practitioner will check for HPV as part of your Pap due to its well-known relationship with cervical cancer. The Pap test itself is an important screening for early detection of cervical and uteran cancers and usually begins at age 21. For ore information about your Pap Smear, see blog post "Pap Smear: What Are They, What They Check For & When To Start Getting Them".
HPV is contracted through sexual contact, including vaginal, anal or oral sex, with a person with the virus. The infection can be passed even if the infected person has no signs or symptpms, which as aformentioned, is common. Given the nature of HPV, the fact that men are not tested for it, and that your body does have the ability to naturally clear it under the right conditions, it is very difficult to say when you contracted HPV or from whom. Many people contract HPV early in their life when they start having sex, sometimes even in their teenage years. But that being said, many women do not get a pap test until the age of 21, and therefore may not find out they contracted it until then. HPV also comes up more frequently in pap tests f your body is at all immunocompromised, so even something like a cold or stressful time in your life can cause HPV to show up on your pap if you had previously contracted it but never tested positive before. For all of these reasons, it is nearly impossible to say where or when you may have contracted HPV unless you have had one sexual partner (orally, anally and vaginally) in your entire life.
The best way to prevent contracting HPV is safe sex practices, including use of a latex condom. However, as HPV can be contracted from areas not covered by a condom, this cannot prevent contracing HPV all together. Another way to potentially avoid contracting HPV and avoid the potential health risks of cancer and warts, is to get vaccinated. HPV vaccination is recommended at age 11 or 12 years (or can start at age 9 years) and for everyone through age 26 years, if not vaccinated already. Most sexually active adults have already been exposed to HPV, although not necessarily all of the HPV types targeted by vaccination. At any age, having a new sex partner is a risk factor for getting a new HPV infection. People who are already in a long-term, mutually monogamous relationship are not likely to get a new HPV infection.
Men cannot be tested for HPV as part of a screening for sexually transmitted infections. So many men are not aware that they are HPV carriers, especially because HPV is often assymptomatic, particualry in men.
It is always responsible to share your status with your sexual partners, especially if you are having unprotected sex. However, given the low risk of HPV to most people, especially those with a cervix that are regularly screened for cervical cancer, you and your partner may elect to continue your sexual relationship as it is. Many people, especialluy men, are not even aware of what HPV is or how it may effect them. For this reason it is important to be open and honest with your partner and learn about HPV together from your healthcare provider. This can help you make the best decision for yourself and your partner going foward.
Many people with HPV are assymptomatic. However, the most common symptoms people experience from HPV are genital warts. Genital warts usually appear as a small bump or group of bumps in the genital area that are flesh colored. They can be small or large, raised or flat, or shaped like a cauliflower. A healthcare provider can usually diagnose warts by looking at the genital area.
There is currently no treatment for HPV that can help "clear" it from your body. However, many people with a cervix between the ages of 21-35 will often clear it themselves through the strength of their natural immune system. That being said, HPV testing is not technically required until 30 years of age, and therefore you may not be aware you have HPV until you receive a pap after the age of 30, although it is possible you had it before. Some people like to take extra immune boosting supplements, such as probiotics, to try to assist their bodies in naturally clearing HPV. This does not gaurantee it will be gone at the next pap test however.
Depending on the complete results of your pap test, your age, and a multitude of other factors, your practitioner may indicate you need further testing or simply to repeat your pap in anywhere from 3 to 12 months. It is critically important that you discuss the totality of your results with your healthcare provider in order to decide on what to do next. Any and all actions after this however, are not intend to "treat" HPV but simply screen further for precancerous conditions that HPV can predispose you to.
The practitioners here at Holistic OBGYN are happy to discuss HPV with you further, as well as your pap test results. For more information on your pap test, you can read our blog post titled, "Pap Smears: What they are, what they check for & when to start getting them". Otherwise, you can make an appt with one of our practitioners at the office to have a full discussion regarding HPV and your pap test. We look forward to hearing from you and seeing you soon!