How HPV is Transmitted and What You Can Do to Protect Yourself

HPV, STDs, OB-GYN, Capital Women’s Care, Vaccines

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted disease. Close to 80 million Americans are infected with HPV. People living with HPV are mainly in their late teens and early 20s.

Out of the many strains of HPV, only a few cause health problems, such as genital warts. Educating yourself on how HPV is spread and learning how to protect yourself against this sexually transmitted disease (STD) is an important step in taking care of your sexual and reproductive health.

How does HPV spread?

HPV is spread through sexual contact with an infected person, even though the person may not have signs of being infected. Anal and vaginal sex are the most common ways that HPV is spread from one person to another. Anyone who is sexually active can get HPV.

HPV transmission without sexual intercourse

While vaginal and anal sex are the most common ways to spreading HPV, you can get it without having sexual intercourse. HPV can be transmitted through hand-to-genital contact and genital-to-genital contact. HPV often goes away on its own, but when it doesn’t, it can cause health problems.

Health risks

When most women are exposed to HPV, their immune systems typically prevent HPV from causing harm. However, if unhindered, HPV can survive for years and pose a risk to your health. When HPV does not go away it can cause genital warts and cervical cancer. In fact, two strains of HPV are responsible for most cases of cervical cancer. The virus can cause changes to the cells of the cervix, causing cancer to develop. HPV can cause other forms of cancer, including cancer of the vulva, anus, and vagina.

Protecting against cervical cancer

Getting regular Pap tests play a vital role in preventing cervical cancer, because a Pap smear can detect abnormal cervical cells. Having abnormal cells does not mean that you have cervical cancer or that you’ll definitely get cervical cancer. Precancerous cells are found much more often than cervical cancer. Thanks to the sensitivity of the Pap test, problems can be detected early and you can receive treatment to prevent cervical cancer.

It’s vital to get your well-woman exam each year, which includes a Pap test.

Protecting against HPV

If you’re sexually active, condoms and the HPV vaccine can help protect you from getting HPV. Keep in mind that condoms are not as effective against HPV as they are against other STDs, such as chlamydia.

HPV vaccination

The HPV vaccine is safe and effective and can protect you against health problems caused by HPV, including cancer. It’s recommended that children ages 11-12 get two doses of the HPV vaccine to protect against the virus. If you did not get vaccinated when you were younger, it’s recommended that boys and men get vaccinated through age 21 and girls and women get vaccinated through age 26.

HPV treatment

There’s no treatment for HPV. However, there is treatment to remove abnormal cells that might lead to cancer. If you have an abnormal Pap test, your provider will order additional testing. While there’s no cure for HPV, there are steps you can take to stay healthy. Vaccines can protect against the high-risk strains of HPV responsible for genital warts and related cancers. In most cases your body will fight off HPV before it causes serious problems.

The team of OB-GYNs at Capital Women’s Care provide the highest quality of obstetric and gynecological care to women throughout Arlington and McLean, Virginia, and the surrounding areas. Whether you need to schedule a well-woman exam or need the best prenatal care, we’ve got you covered. Call the office nearest you to schedule an appointment with one of our highly experienced providers or use our convenient web form to book online.

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