It matters most...Probably, the most important aspect of dealing with HPV
Human papillomavirus infection is known to be extremely contagious. A single sexual encounter with an infected individual carries a 65% risk of contracting HPV (1).
Infected individuals may unknowingly be passing the infection to others, because oftentimes HPV causes no symptoms or the symptoms may be delayed for months.
For these reasons, HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the world.
In case of HPV, prevention is especially important, because there is no treatment for the infection.
Yes, HPV infection may go away on its own, but in some cases it becomes latent. Meaning that the virus resides in the body without any symptoms but may become active months or years later.
All of the available treatment options are directed only at the symptoms, such as genital warts, warts located in other parts of the body, or localized itching.
The topic of HPV prevention is divided into the prevention of human papillomavirus infection AND the prevention of cancer, a dreaded complication of some types of HPV.
As far as cancer is concerned, cervical cancer in women is the most important complication of infection.
Types of Prevention:
A 100% sure way to prevent HPV infection is not having sex at all. So, for as long as you are not engaging in any type of sexual activity, you will not get genital HPV.
Let’s be clear, you may still contract other types of HPV that cause warts elsewhere in the body, but you will not develop genital warts and will not be at risk of developing cervical cancer if you’re a woman.
Currently, there are three FDA-approved vaccines for the prevention of HPV.
The CDC recommends routine vaccination for girls and boys ages 11 and 12. The vaccine is given in three doses over a period of 6 months. The second dose is given 1-2 months after the initial shot, and the third dose is given 6 months after the initial shot (2).
Older individuals who did not receive the vaccine earlier in life are still encouraged to get vaccinated before the age of 26 for women and age 21 for men. Men with weak immune system or men who have sex with men are encouraged to receive the vaccine until the age of 27 years.
Vaccination does not treat existing HPV infection.
- Protects against HPV types 6, 11, 16 and 18.
- HPV types 16 and 18 are known to cause the majority of cervical cancers.
- Available since late 2014.
- Protects against HPV types 6, 11, 16, 18, 31, 33, 45, 52 and 58.
- This coverage protects against the development of 90% cases of cervical cancer.
- Protects against HPV types 16 and 18, which are responsible for majority of cervical cancers.
Limit the number of sexual partners
The higher the number of sexual partners a person has, the higher their risk of contracting HPV infection.
Limiting the number of sexual partners helps lower the risk of becoming infected.
Don’t have sex at young age
It has been shown that nearly 50% of HPV infections occur in teens and young adults. Consequently, engaging in sexual activity at a younger age increases the risk of contracting HPV.
Condoms significantly lower the risk of infection, but they do not eliminate it.
95% of men say that if they ever were infected with HPV, they would use a condom to protect their partner (3).
Keep in mind that HPV spreads on skin-to-skin contact. So, although the area penis which is covered by a condom may be protected, other body areas which are prone to skin contact are vulnerable.
Yes, you can get HPV by any skin contact in the genital region, this includes the pubic area.
There is some evidence that circumcised males have lower rates of HPV infection than uncircumcised men (4).
Circumcision does not help prevent all types of HPV infection.
Pap smears screen women for the development of cervical cancer. Since cervical cancer is the most important long-term complication of HPV infection, having regular Pap smears helps catch cervical cancer in the early stages of development.
Pap smear is one of only a handful of cancer screening tests that have been shown to be very effective, if done regularly.
This test can save your life.
Women between the ages 21 and 65 are encouraged to get screened.
Depending on the results, pap smears are usually repeated every 2-3 years. Follow-up time will be shorter if any abnormalities are found.
Remember that Pap smear does not screen and protect against the development of ovarian, vaginal or vulvar cancer.