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Why is HPV So Common?

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is an extremely common sexually transmitted disease (STD). In fact, it’s so common that most sexually active people are infected with the virus at some point in their lives. Currently, nearly 80 million people in the United States are infected with HPV. While this may seem like a shocking statistic, there’s no need to panic.

At Capital Women’s Care, we’re here to answer your questions and concerns surrounding HPV and all other aspects of women’s health. Here’s what we want you to know about HPV.

What is HPV?

If you guessed that HPV is the most common STD, you’re right. It outranks herpes and chlamydia. HPV refers to a group of more than 200 viruses, of which about 40 types can infect your genital area as well as your throat and mouth.

Most HPV infections don’t cause problems

While HPV is incredibly common, it’s important to know that most genital HPV infections are harmless. Most people who contract HPV will have no symptoms and otherwise feel fine. That’s because in most cases, HPV goes away. Your body’s immune system treats HPV as it does any other virus and attempts to get rid of it. While there’s no cure for HPV, about 90% of HPV infections will clear up on their own.

Certain types of HPV may pose harm

OB/GYNs refer to certain types of HPV as high risk. Some strains of HPV can stick around and cause persistent infection. Two strains of HPV can cause tissue changes to the cervix that can lead to cervical cancer. If you have a high-risk strain of HPV, it’s crucial to see your OB/GYN for regular well-woman checks. Women who get routine Pap smears rarely get cervical cancer because a Pap smear can detect abnormal cells before cancer has a chance to develop.

So why is HPV so common?

A few factors contribute to HPV’s title as the most common STD. For instance, HPV is easily spread through skin-to-skin contact. HPV is easily spread among sexual partners when your mouth or genital area touches your partner’s mouth or genital area.

While wearing a condom provides excellent protection against certain STDs, it isn’t as effective at preventing HPV infections since the scrotum and other parts of the genital area are exposed. Additionally, most people with HPV have no symptoms and are unaware that they’re infected with the virus -- so they unknowingly spread it to others.

What are the symptoms of HPV?

As we mentioned earlier, most people with HPV have no symptoms. Some types of HPV can cause genital warts. These are small bumps that appear on the genital area. The types of HPV that cause genital warts are low risk. This means they won’t cause cancer. While genital warts may make you feel uncomfortable or embarrassed, they aren’t life-threatening. Genital warts are harmless and usually painless.

Should you get tested for HPV?

There’s a test to check for cervical HPV but not other genital areas. Because HPV is common and usually goes away on its own, it’s usually unnecessary to test for HPV. It’s often found because of an abnormal Pap smear or when your doctor notices genital warts. However, your doctor may recommend an HPV test under certain circumstances.

The providers at Capital Women’s Care are there to support you throughout every phase of life. For top-quality obstetric and gynecological care, call one of our offices in Arlington or McLean, Virginia, to schedule an appointment or request an appointment online.

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