HPV (human papillomavirus) is a family of viruses that causes these conditions:
The interval between infection with HPV and changes to the cervix, also known as cervical dysplasia, can be a few months to many years. These changes are detectable by Pap and HPV testing. The interval to cervical cancer (if not treated appropriately) is usually 10-20 years.
It is only when HPV infects the cervix for many years that it can cause cervical cancer. However, cervical cancer is nearly 100% preventable if you have regular Pap tests, as advised by your medical provider.
Any sexually active person, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, is at risk for HPV.
HPV viruses that cause genital warts and HPV-related cervical changes are sexually transmitted—in fact, they are the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) among college students. Most people contract HPV through sexual intercourse (anal or vaginal), but it can be passed through any sexual contact. Thus, it is possible for even those who have never had vaginal or anal sex to have HPV infections.
As many as 75% of sexually active men and women will have an HPV infection during their lifetimes. In a study done here at the University of Washington, over one-third of young women who did not have evidence of HPV infection at the start of the study were infected after 24 months. An equal percentage of women who became sexually active for the first time during the study period were infected after by 24 months.
Smoking can greatly increase your risk of abnormal cervical changes, known as cervical dysplasia, and cancer. If you have multiple sexual partners, this also increases your risk of HPV infection. Knowing a new partner less than 8 months before having sexual contact may also increase your chance of contracting HPV.
A vaccine is available that can protect you against some of the most common types of HPV. If you haven't yet been exposed to the virus, it can prevent you from ever getting infected. It can also prevent genital warts.
Yes. Within two years, 90% of those infected will have cleared the virus. However, a few will have HPV for much longer. The average duration of cervical infections is about 8 months.
No. Most often, both partners are infected by the same virus and develop immunity to that strain of the virus. Neither partner is in danger of reinfection by the same virus once their bodies have fought it off. However, all sexually active people are at risk for new infections with different subtypes of HPV.
If you have a cervix, a Pap test is the best way to check for the abnormal cellular changes that can lead to cancer. Talk to your healthcare provider about when to start screening and how often you will need to have Pap testing.
Schedule an appointment with Hall Health for a Pap test.
There is currently no test to determine whether biological males have HPV.
Our knowledge about HPV infections is growing rapidly. What we know changes constantly as new information is added to our body of knowledge. At the same time, there is a great deal of misinformation about HPV out there, especially on the web. Below are sources of additional—and reliable—information on HPV infections:
American Sexual Health Association (ASHA)'s page on HPV, which includes information for male partners of those diagnosed with HPV
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) page on all things HPV
You can call the National STD Hotline for more information about HPV or other STDs at 1-800-227-8922, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists' Frequently Asked Questions on HPV
For additional information, call one of Hall Health's Consulting Nurses.
Authored by: Charles Petty, MD, and Ingrid Helsel, RN