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The Human papillomavirus, more commonly known as HPV, has quickly become the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States. It is estimated that as many as 6 million people will be newly diagnosed every year. Nearly all sexually active men and women will be infected at some point in their life. Of those with an HPV infected partner, 60% will contract the virus.

Most HPV infections have no symptoms and resolve on their own spontaneously. When an infection persists and a woman is unable to eradicate the virus, problems can arise. As many of us know, HPV has been linked to cancer. These strands of HPV are known as “high risk HPV”. Other strands are considered low risk, these types cause genital warts.

Genital warts are small soft lesions that can appear in clusters or singular. If you’ve had an infection for a long time, they can have a cauliflower appearance. Most cases of genital warts are caused by the HPV strands 6 and 11. There are several different treatment options to reduce the number of lesions and alleviate symptoms. Oftentimes warts will reappear because the person still carries the virus. If you think you have genital warts and you’re interested in having them removed please speak with your provider about your treatment options, which could include: cryotherapy, trichloroacetic acid or excision.  There are also multiple prescription medications you can get from your provider if an at-home treatment is something you prefer, this could include Aldara® or Condylox®.

High risk HPV infections are most commonly caused by strands 16 and 18. This type of HPV has been linked to cervical, penile, vulvar, vaginal, anal and oropharyngeal cancer. As healthcare providers, we are concerned about all types of cancer. As women’s health care providers we are very concerned about cervical cancer. When this type of HPV persists it causes abnormal cells to grow on the cervix. If the abnormal cells are not treated, they can develop into cancer. This is why it is important to make sure you are up-to-date on your pap as well as follow-up from an abnormal pap.  Women over the age of 30 are tested for HPV and cervical cancer when they have their pap. Women younger than 30 are tested for HPV if they have an abnormal pap test result. Currently, there is no known FDA-approved HPV test for men.

The most clinically significant way to prevent HPV is with vaccination. The first HPV vaccination was introduced in June 2006. Girls and women aged 9 to 26 should regularly be offered the vaccination no matter their sexual activity status or if they have been exposed to the virus previously. Those that have had previous exposure to HPV should consider vaccination to protect themselves from other strands of HPV. The vaccination consists of 3 separate injections given months apart. There is no need to start the 3 injection series over again if you believe you had an injection but didn’t finish the recommended 3. If you are interested in getting the HPV vaccination, please contact our office and we will be able to assist you.

– Kelsey Sellers, DNP, APRN