Ever heard or read about HPV? No? Well, then you need to digest these fundamental facts about human papillomavirus. You may already have it without knowing.
Here’s what you need to know about HPV
HPV is the most prevalent STI
HPV is a sexually transmitted infection (STI), passed between people during unprotected genital contact. There are more than 100 numbered genotypes of HPV; 14 of these genotypes are associated with cervical cancer. Other types of HPV can cause symptoms such as genital warts.
HPV usually has no symptoms
Another frightening fact is that you may have HPV right now and not know – HPV doesn’t always present with symptoms. With no physical signs of the virus, you could be passing it on to your partner; yet another reason to practice safe sex by using contraception. Remember, condoms do not cover all of your genital skin, so they aren’t 100% effective in protecting against HPV. Are you concerned that you or your partner might be infected? Make sure that you visit your doctor or nearest women’s sexual and reproductive health clinic for a pap smear.
Anyone sexually active can get HPV
HPV is contracted through direct skin-to-skin genital contact with someone who has the virus, meaning that if you have unprotected sex – vaginal, anal and/or oral – you could contract the virus.
There’s a vaccine that can help protect you against HPV
The best defence against HPV is the vaccine. It protects you from the virus and significantly reduces your chances of developing cervical cancer. The problem is that it’s not effective if you already have HPV. Therefore, it’s essential for girls between nine and 12 years of age to get the HPV vaccine.
HPV: the most common cause of cervical cancer
Different strains of HPV can cause changes in the cells of the cervix – a condition called cervical dysplasia which, if left untreated, can develop into cervical cancer. However, even though HPV is the most likely cause of cervical cancer, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you will get cervical cancer.
Pap smears are the best defence against cervical cancer
Cervical cancer is almost always preventable or treatable if pre-cancerous changes are detected and treated early at an early stage. Pap smears can detect abnormalities before they develop into something untreatable.
For women under the age of 30, HPV infection is usually temporary and goes away by itself. By 30 years of age, detection of HPV during pap smears can be used to determine the appropriate time to have a screening.
It’s always advisable to go for annual women’s wellness check-ups, even if your pap smear is normal. The procedure can be performed at any Marie Stopes South Africa’s clinics. Find your nearest MSSA centre offering a pap smear and get yourself tested.