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What is HPV?

Human papillomavirus, or HPV, is a virus estimated to infect up to 80% of the general population over the course of your lifetime.  HPV affects both women AND men and is transmitted from skin-to-skin contact usually from sexual contact.  The virus can be present from the first sexual experience, though it may take much longer before it shows up on an exam.  In many cases, a healthy immune system will "clear" the infection before it causes any problems.  However, if the virus can linger and cause problems as well.  Consequences of HPV infection in women include, but are not limited to genital warts, abnormal pap smears, and in extreme cases genital cancers of the cervix, vulva, vagina, anus.  Smoking and immunodeficiency will increase your risk of cancer in the presence of HPV infection.

Types of HPV

There are many strains of HPV and all types can affect the genital area or lead to abnormal pap smears.  Typically, low risk HPV can lead to genital warts most commonly from Type 6 or Type 11.  Because the low risk types of HPV do not typically lead to cancer, they are not screened for in routine testing.  High risk HPV(HRHPV), including Types 16 and 18 are most commonly associated with cervical cancer in about 75% of cases.   As a result, these are screened for routinely at age 30 and above with the pap smear. 

How can I have HRHPV when my paps have always been normal?

Current pap guidelines typically recommend screening for HRHPV at age 30 and above in addition to the routine pap smear.  This is because about 5-10% of women with a normal pap smear history can still be infected with HRHPV.  In this affected group, about one third of women can actually have underlying precancerous cells that need to be removed.  

Gardasil Vaccine

Currently, the Gardasil Vaccine is recommended to prevent genital warts, cervical cancers, and other diseases caused by HPV in both women AND men.  The vaccine series consists of 3 injections given over a 6month period of time in females and males between the ages of 9 and 26.  Currently, the vaccine is considered preventative care and typically covered by insurance.  Anyone allergic to yeast may be allergic to Gardasil and should not receive the vaccine.  Pregnant women and breastfeeding women should not receive the vaccine at this time.  

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