What you need to know about HPV

Learn about human papillomavirus: its causes, symptoms and how to prevent it.

Man and woman holding hands at a table

Q&A on HPV with an expert: Christina daSilva, D.O.

What is human papillomavirus (HPV)?
The human papillomavirus (HPV) is a group of more than 150 kinds of viruses. HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the United States. Some of these viruses have been linked to different kinds of cancer, including cervical, penile, anal, vaginal, vulvar and oral cancers.

What are the symptoms?
The most visible symptoms of HPV are genital warts. These can be found on the penis and around the anus in men. In women, they’re found on the vulva, around the anus, inside the vagina, and on the cervix. In some cases, the warts may appear in the mouth area. They do not often cause pain but may cause itching.

How is it transmitted?
Although genital HPV can spread through skin-to-skin contact, it is usually transmitted through vaginal, oral or anal sex with a person who has the virus.

How is it prevented?
A person who becomes sexually active at a young age or has sex with many partners has a greater risk of getting an infection. Having sex with someone who has had many partners in the past can also increase the risk. That’s why it is important for sexual partners to discuss their sexual history and any sexually transmitted diseases they may have or have had. There is no guaranteed protection against getting genital HPV for people who are sexually active because skin-to-skin contact with an infected person can spread it. Using condoms during sex does not prevent HPV infection, although condoms can prevent other sexually transmitted diseases, such as HIV.

How is it diagnosed?
A doctor often diagnoses HPV in men when he or she sees warts on the surface of the penis. It is important for women who are older than 21 to regularly have a pelvic exam and Pap and/or HPV test.

Are there vaccines to help prevent HPV?
There are two commonly used vaccines: Gardasil and Cervarix. Both vaccines are administered as a series of three injections over a six-month period. For the vaccines to be effective, one of them should be given before the person becomes sexually active or is exposed to the virus. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, either of these vaccines is recommended for 11- and 12-year-old girls, or girls ages 13 through 26 who did not get the vaccine when they were younger or did not complete the vaccination series. Gardasil can also be given to boys between the ages of 9 and 26.

Talk to your child’s physician to discuss vaccinations or schedule an appointment with your pediatrician.

Christina daSilva, DO, is a pediatrician at Sanford Children’s Downtown Clinic in her hometown of Bismarck, N.D. Dr. daSilva received an undergraduate degree from Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn., and a medical degree at Des Moines University in Iowa. She completed her pediatric residency training at Blank Children’s Hospital in Des Moines.


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