Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a virus that sometimes causes genital warts but in many cases infects people without causing noticeable symptoms. Concern about HPV has increased in recent years after studies showed that some types of HPV infection cause cervical cancer. HPV is likely the most common STD among young, sexually active people and is of increasing public health importance. At any one time, an estimated 20 million people in the United States have genital HPV infections that can be transmitted to others. Every year, more than 6 million people acquire a genital HPV infection.
While there is no way to know for sure if HPV is increasing, there are no signs of a significant decline. With improved testing technology, researchers have been able to get a much clearer picture of the true extent of HPV in certain groups in recent years, and the infection is even more common than originally believed.
Most HPV infections appear to be temporary and are probably cleared up by the body’s immune system. One study in college students showed that in 91 percent of women with new HPV infections, HPV became undetectable within two years (Ho, 1998). However, reactivation or reinfection is possible.
Persistent cervical infection with certain types of HPV is the single most important risk factor for cervical cancer. HPV type 16 accounts for more than 50 percent of cervical cancers and high-grade dysplasia—abnormal cell growth. HPV type 16, along with types 18, 31, and 45 account for 80 percent of cervical cancers (Bosch, 1995; Shah, 1997).
The vaccination process includes a series of shots and is recommended by the CDC particularly for 11-12 year-old girls. It is recommended that girls get vaccinated before they become sexually active, which is the reason for the young age recommendation.
The HPV vaccine is called Gardasil. You need to contact your insurance company to see if they cover all three shots required for the full vaccination.
If you think you may have a sexually transmitted disease, you should see a physician immediately to be properly diagnosed and treated. You should not try to diagnose or treat symptoms on your own.
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