What's HPV all about?
Okay, here's the science. Don't panic! There's no test at the end, so don't worry.
HPV stands for human papillomavirus. It's a common virus that can end up causing a lot of health problems, including genital warts and cancer - such as cervical cancer. Don't think it will happen to you? Think again.
HPV is the most common STI (sexually transmitted infection - formerly called STD, or sexually transmitted disease) in the world. HPV is a really important health issue for all young women.
Believe it or not, 3 out of 4 sexually active people will get HPV at some point in their lives, and probably before they're 25 years old.
Although there are over 100 different types of HPV, most of them only cause minor health problems, such as warts on your hands or feet. Most types of HPV do not cause any symptoms and go away on their own; however, there are over 40 types that affect the genital area and some can lead to even more serious health problems. To learn more about the health conditions that can be caused by HPV and how they could affect you, see "How can HPV affect me?"
Some types of HPV are considered to be high-risk types and can lead to some cancers, such as cervical cancer and cancer of the vulva (the outside of the female genital area) and the vagina. Other lower-risk types of HPV lead to genital warts. They're called "low-risk" because they're unlikely to cause cancer.
The next time you go to your doctor, ask for some more information about HPV and how you can protect yourself.
Am I at risk?
"Am I at risk of being infected with HPV?" For any girl or woman who is sexually active or is close to becoming sexually active, the answer is "yes."
HPV is not spread through blood, and you can catch HPV simply through skin-to-skin contact with the genital area of an infected person during sexual activity.
Get the facts:
- You can catch the virus even if you don't have sex.
- Being faithful or only having one partner won't necessarily protect you from getting HPV. You or your partner may already have caught HPV from an earlier relationship. See how quickly HPV can spread through your network of sexual partners.
- Although HPV sometimes causes unsightly genital warts, you can't always see visible symptoms. Because of this, you may not be able to tell if someone is infected - they might not even know they're infected.
Condoms don't provide complete protection from HPV. You may be asking your partner to use a condom to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), such as HIV and chlamydia, and that's smart. Unfortunately, any skin-to-skin contact in the genital area can spread HPV. If you are having sex, a condom may not protect you if your partner has the HPV infection outside the area that the condom covers. Even if you're vaccinated against HPV, don't stop using a condom. Condoms help prevent other infections, as well as pregnancy, so make sure you use them!
Fortunately, there are ways to help prevent HPV. Talk to your doctor about getting protected against HPV.