Human Papilloma Virus (HPV)
What It Is:
HPV is one of the most common sexually-transmitted viruses. While it causes few symptoms on its own, it is linked to several forms of cancer. In fact, the National Cancer Institute reports that essentially all cervical cancers are the result of HPV infection. Mouth and throat cancers, and cancer of the penis are also linked to HPV infection. Protecting yourself is extremely important.
HPV Symptoms and Detection:
Approximately 75% of all sexually active people will be infected with HPV at some point in their lives. Most people show no symptoms at all. Others experience:
- Genital warts: Raised, dry, usually soft and painless bumps around the genital or anal area
- Cervical changes: detected by Pap test or colposcopy (examination of the cervix using a magnifying scope)
There is no screening test that detects HPV in men. However if your sexual partner is diagnosed with HPV, it is likely that you are infected too.
Abstinence: The only way to avoid all forms of HPV infection he is to abstain from intimate genital contact, including oral sex.
Vaccines: There are now vaccines against some of the cancer causing strains of HPV. One of the vaccines also protects against 2 of the most common strains associated with development of visible genital warts. If you are between the ages of 9 and 26, the vaccine has been proven to be safe and effective in preventing infection with the included strains of the virus. If you are older than 26, you may still be able to receive the vaccine. Talk to a provider at the IU Health Center Medical Clinic (http://healthcenter.indiana.edu/services/medical-clinic.shtml)
You can get the vaccine at the IU Health Center Immunization Clinic (http://healthcenter.indiana.edu/services/shots.shtml). The HPV vaccine is expensive, costing $155 for any student who has paid the IU Health Fee, and $160 per shot for those who have not. A series of 3 shots is required for full immunization. Prices are subject to change. Merck, the manufacturer of one of the vaccines, offers their vaccine at no cost to low income and uninsured patients. To apply, download the Merck Vaccine Patient Assistance Form (http://healthcenter.indiana.edu/docs/mvpap_app.pdf).
"Safer Sex ": Condoms or other latex barriers can reduce your risk of contracting HPV; however, they are not 100% effective since they do not cover all potentially exposed skin. Limiting your number of lifetime sexual partners can also reduce your risk of becoming infected. A long term, mutuallymonogamous relationship is the safest.
There is no cure or for HPV infection, but there are many treatments for genital warts, including freezing or applying chemicals to the warts. Repeated treatments usually are required, and can sometimes take several months. Warts in the anal or rectal area may require surgical treatment. The warts cannot be treated with over-the-counter medications. Even after the visible warts are gone, you may still be infected with the HPV virus, and warts may return. You also may still be able to transmit the virus to your sexual partners.
Cervical HPV infections can be monitored through regular Pap smears, colposcopy, and biopsy when necessary. Even if you had the HPV vaccine, you should visit the IU Health Center Women's Clinic (http://healthcenter.indiana.edu/services/womens-health.shtml) every year for an annual checkup. If you have paid the IU Health Fee (http://healthcenter.indiana.edu/about/fees-payments.shtml), the cost of your visit is reduced if you make an appointment in advance.