What is Human Papillomavirus (HPV)?

What is Human Papillomavirus (HPV)???

If you’ve ever had sex, oral sex, anal sex, or any contact with someone’s genital region… This article is for you. If you haven’t done any of this before, you should still read the sections lower down. You are one of the lucky people who can actually prevent yourself from ever getting HPV by the beauty of a simple vaccine! Thank you science! 😍😍😍 And, if you’re the parent of a young child or teenager, then this article is a must read! 

HPV, or human papilloma virus, is very common and very contagious. Most middle-aged men and women who have been sexually active probably have or have had HPV at some point (unfortunately, the vaccine did not exist when they were young). It often goes without symptoms for many years, but can also crop up as groups of warts. 

Types of HPV

HPV comes in two varieties: low-risk types and high-risk types. Most cases of HPV are low-risk types that can crop up as groups of warts, but that’s about it. The body’s immune system is usually good at fighting both low-risk and high-risk types and often can clear the HPV on its own within 2 years. 

However, there are some high-risk types of HPV (13 of these suckers according to the CDC). These can lead to cancer in a small minority of people after decades of being infected and the body not being able to clear the virus. Over recent years, its been found that HPV is more serious than once thought. HPV has been found to be the cause of different kinds of cancer, specifically of the cervix, vagina, vulva, penis, and back of the throat and other types of oral throat cancer. 😳 What was once thought to be just a wart is now just a wart that can cause cancer. It can be silent, and very serious. But there are ways to keep yourself safe, so read on! 😀😀

Skin Symptoms of HPV

You may find fleshy, flat, or mini cauliflower like skin clusters growing in the genital region or around the anus. These warts are itchy and spread easily. Thankfully, warts aren’t dangerous and they don’t lead to cancer. Instead they are just really annoying to whoever has them. The good part is that your healthcare provider or a nearby sexual health clinic like Planned Parenthood can diagnose them and then work on treating and removing them (usually by freezing the warts). Sometimes, even if you have HPV, you also may find NOTHING AT ALL on the skin. You may have HPV and not even know it. 

How to prevent HPV— HPV vaccine

The HPV vaccine 💉 is offered to children over age 9, and encouraged by at least age 11. Gasp, you say, 11 years old they’re not sexually active! Well the scary truth is that a lot of kids are sexually active at age 11 or are thinking about it. Some people also do not consider oral 👄sex as sex, but oral sex can still transmit HPV. ANY skin to skin contact can transmit HPV. Oral, anal or genital all count. Kids are trying out these new things on the bus 🚌, in school, when you’re not home, and maybe even when you are home! 

The age of onset of sexual activity keeps getting younger. Sex has been around since the beginning of time. It’s biological and it’s real. It’s important to teach the kids to protect themselves, and that these things can cause serious long-term effects on their bodies. The best thing you can do as a mom or dad is to consider the HPV vaccine for your child, and yourself. 

Getting the HPV vaccine isn’t a green light to sex. It’s a way to protect long before having sex. The CDC reports that “HPV infections are so common that nearly all men and women will get at least one type of HPV at some point in their lives. Nearly 80 million Americans are currently infected with some type of HPV. About 14 million Americans, including teens, become infected each year.” Be open, have conversations with your child about their bodies and about sex.

Really, as a parent, you should be thinking about the HPV vaccine 💉like you do the tetanus and meningitis vaccines. You should ask the same questions about all vaccines. Are they safe? Do we need them? The answer is YES! They are crucial to preventing serious deadly illnesses and keeping your children safe.

HPV vaccines do the same as the other routine sets of vaccines. The best part, for children ages 9-14, you only need a series of 2 vaccine shots over 6 months, while anyone ages 15 and over must get a series of 3 shots over 6 months. Do your kids a favor, get the vaccine when they are young and save yourself one extra trip to the doctor and one less reason for your kids to be whiny and upset! 🤣

Additional ways to prevent HPV

Besides getting the HPV vaccine to prevent some strains of the virus, there are other ways to protect yourself. Avoiding sex is one way to prevent HPV. Though most adults will have sex at some point in there life. Thus, using barrier protection is another. Most people who have HPV may not even know it, so your sexual partner may be spreading the HPV virus to you during genital contact without the slightest clue they are doing so.😳 Remember, safe sex is great sex and can decrease your chances of HPV and STIs. 

Using condoms 100% of the time can prevent the spread of HPV, as well as other sexually transmitted infections. You will need to protect yourself when having oral (i.e. dental dams), anal and genital sexual contact. ANY skin contact with an infected partner can spread the disease. Read more here about symptoms of STIs in men and STIs in women here. Don’t forget to talk to your children about the importance of protection and the reality of what sexual choices can mean. It’s 2019, time to talk to those kids! Need help? Check out this great resource for parents from Planned Parenthood. 

Side effects of HPV vaccine

One of the main side effects of the HPV vaccine is fainting. It is recommended to get the HPV vaccine while laying down. Teenagers are the most likely to faint. The truth is that teenagers are the most common group of kids under 18 to pass out with any kind of blood work or shots, so it’s hard to know if the cause is the age group or the actual vaccine. Other side effects include pain at the injection site, headache and mild fever. 

When I mention the HPV vaccine, it’s common for some parents to provide pushback. They think that this is a new vaccine and that it’s not safe. But this vaccine has been around since 2006 and has been studied for safety. The CDC reports on the safety of the HPV vaccine here.

Make sure to feed your teen a snack before getting any shot or bloodwork. Teens are more likely to faint in general. I cringe when I send kids for blood work when they haven’t had breakfast! I always offer juice before a vaccine for all teens, as they are the ones who always seem to faint! Babies and kids cry when they get vaccines so they are forced to breathe as they yell and scream. Teens tend to hold their breath and tend to pass out 🙄

Since the HPV vaccine came out in 2006, some young adults haven’t received the vaccine. When I say young adults, I mean people in their late 30s and early 40s! These people most likely have been exposed to HPV during their lifetime, so it’s especially important for them to be more vigilant about getting pap smears and checked at their dentist for oral cancers. If you haven’t gotten the vaccine, it’s never too late to protect yourself! Talk to your primary healthcare provider! 

Does the HPV vaccine prevent cancer?

The HPV vaccine does not prevent you from getting cancer 100%, but it significantly decreases your risk by protecting you from 9 different high-risk strains of HPV. Decreasing your risk is a big deal. It’s important that we always do better when we know better. 

How do I know if I have HPV?

You may have HPV and not even know it. Some people don’t find out that they have HPV until they find a wart, have an abnormal PAP smear or are diagnosed with cancer. For women, it’s important to get regular Pap smears at your gynecologist’s office. Some primary care offices will also provide this service. 

What is a pap smear? 

Providers perform pap smears to check the cervix for abnormal cells, inflammation and disease. The provider inserts a small brush into the vagina to scrape cells from the cervix and test them for anything abnormal. The pap smear is now recommended every 3 years for most people over the age of 21 years. Planned Parenthood has some really great information about females being tested for HPV. 

HPV treatment— can HPV be treated?

There is no actual treatment for HPV. There is however medication that can be taken to help suppress the warts if you have developed genital warts. If your pap smear is abnormal and precancerous cells are found, then there are treatments to help prevent the cells from developing into full blown cancer. Of course, if you are found to have cancer, there are treatments for that too. 

If you are worried about your health or have concerns about HPV, please reach out to one of our nurses. We would love to chat!

–Kim Liner, RN, MSN, CPNP

Nurse-1-1 Health Center is written by nurses in a straight to the point type of way to provide basic health information. We get a lot of people like you searching online for answers to health concerns or looking for a hotline to ask a nurse a few questions. Questions like, should I be concerned about giving my child the MMR vaccine to prevent measles? What are the best ways to prevent UTIs? When to get that sports injury checked out by a medical provider? Well we can help. We put some info here for you to find while searching through all that other dry, scary medical information online. Stop that. Read our posts, or chat with us. This is not medical advice or a replacement for medical care, but see what we have to say with our free health information, and hopefully it will stop you from scaring yourself any more than you already have. We can help.