I† just found out I have HPV. What is it?
HPV (Human Papillomavirus) is the most common sexually transmitted disease, and it will infect 75 percent of young women before the age of 50, if they donít get vaccinated. Itís the virus that causes genital and anal warts, abnormal pap smears, and cervical cancer. Even if youíre a virgin when you hook up with someone, you can end up with HPV — even if your partner has only slept with one other person.
This is not a disease of freaks and hoochies. (If it is, then Iím one of those hoochies, since I got it from my husband. Poor guy. He feels bad.) Even if youíre really careful, you can still get it, and next thing you know, youíve got genital warts and cervical cancer. While they do reduce the risk of transmission, condoms donít completely protect you, since your labia can touch the skin around your partnerís genitals, even with a condom on. All it takes is intimate genital touching between you and your partner.
Why is HPV so common and why is everyone talking about it?
The strains of HPV that tend to cause abnormal pap smears and cervical cancer donít cause any problems in men. So they donít even know they have it. Which means theyíre passing it around from woman to woman, like a beach ball. You gotta wonder when the guy says, ďOh, thatís so weird. ALL my girlfriends have had abnormal pap smears.Ē Duh, dude. Itís you!
What can happen to you if you catch HPV?
HPV can cause warts, abnormal pap smears, and cervical cancer. Usually, warts are caused by HPV types 6 and 11, the two most common strains. These strains cause problems for both men and women, since men can get genital warts and anal warts as well. Asking your partner if heís ever had warts can give you an idea of whether your partner might carry HPV.† But even if your partner says no, it doesnít mean youíre out of the woods. Some people carry the virus but their immune systems keep it from wreaking havoc on their genitals. Even so, they can shed the virus from their genitals and pass it along. Then if your immune system is weak one day, BOOM. There it is. Cauliflower crotch.
But warts are small potatoes, as far as HPV goes. HPV types 16 and 18 (the high risk types) can cause abnormal pap smears and cervical cancer.† Thatís why itís so important to get pap smears regularly. As long as you get your pap smear once a year, you will probably never get cancer. But you may very well wind up with an abnormal pap smear, the way I did. If that happens, youíll have to get a procedure called a colposcopy, which is a microscope we gynecologists use to get up-close-and-personal with your cervix to make sure thereís no cancer.