What the heck is it anyway?
HPV, the human papillomavirus, is the most common STI out there. It’s so common that almost all sexually active people will get it at some point. HPV is a group of more than 100 types of viruses. In most cases, they’re harmless. So what’s the big deal? Thirteen types of HPV cause cancer – usually cervical cancer, but also throat, penis, mouth, and anal cancers. Other types of HPV can cause genital warts.
Most HPV infections don’t cause symptoms, and go away on their own. But some types of the virus can lead to cancer and genital warts. There’s no treatment for the virus itself, but your doctor can help you treat genital warts, cervical pre-cancers and other HPV-related cancers that the virus can cause.
The HPV vaccine is your best shot (pun intended) at protecting yourself. It’s also really smart to use condoms every time you have sex. However, since HPV can be passed on from skin-to-skin contact and condoms only cover one area of skin, they don’t offer perfect protection.
The HPV vaccine is available for both girls and guys, and can protect you against the types of HPV that cause the majority (70%) of all cervical cancer cases. So really, there’s a vaccine that prevents cancer! How cool is that?! The CDC recommends that boys and girls aged 11 or 12 years old get the HPV shot. “Catch-up” shots are available for guys through age 21, and for girls through age 26 if they were not vaccinated when they were younger.
There is no definitive test for HPV. Some people find out that they have HPV when they go to get checked for genital warts, or after they’ve developed more serious problems from HPV. Girls can find out they have HPV after a Pap smear test result during your annual exam with your gyno.
In North Carolina, you can get a confidential HPV vaccine without a parent’s permission. Do you have questions about HPV or want to see a doctor, but don’t know where to start? Use this nifty search tool to find a healthcare provider near you.