Curious about HPV? This sexually transmitted infection (STI) affects most sexually active people at some point in their lives, sometimes without them even realizing it. But because HPV can have life-threatening side effects, it’s important to understand how it works. Learn more about how HPV is transmitted, how to protect yourself, and options for getting tested, including Nurx’s Home HPV Screening test.
What Is HPV?
HPV stands for human papillomavirus. Millions of Americans are currently infected with HPV, making it the most common STI. Both men and women can contract and spread HPV.
There are more than 200 types of HPV, many of which cause no detectable symptoms or health problems. About 40 of these strains spread through sexual contact and can infect the genital area as well as the mouth and throat.
Most genital HPV infections aren’t serious and go away on their own when your immune system attacks the virus. However, some types of HPV cause genital warts, and a number of high-risk HPV strains can cause cancer. In fact, HPV types 16 and 18 cause about 70 percent of all cervical cancer cases. There is no cure for HPV.
How Can I Protect Against HPV?
There are several ways you can reduce your risk of becoming infected with HPV, including:
- Getting vaccinated: The best way to protect yourself against this STI is to get the HPV vaccine. This vaccine is effective for preventing infection with the types of HPV that are most likely to cause cancer and genital warts. The HPV vaccine works best before you’ve been exposed to HPV, which is why it’s recommended for kids to receive the vaccine around ages 9 to 12.
- Using condoms: Always using condoms during sex lowers your risk. However, condoms cannot defend against HPV entirely because it spreads through skin-to-skin contact.
- Limiting your number of partners: Having sex with fewer people, especially those who have had many other sex partners, can lower your risk of exposure to HPV.
How Can I Get Tested for HPV?
If you’re a woman between the ages 30 to 65, guidelines recommend that you either have a pap smear every three years, HPV test every five years, or a pap smear and HPV test every five years. Nurx just introduced a Home HPV Screening test, which allows you to check your risk for cervical cancer from the convenience of your own home. All you have to do is take a vaginal swab in the privacy of your own home, and mail it back in to get your results.
What Happens if I Have HPV?
If your HPV test comes back positive, it doesn’t mean you have cancer. A positive HPV test result indicates that you have a high-risk strain that increases your risk for cancer, so your doctor will need to monitor your health through more frequent testing. Though you should always practice safe sex, it’s especially important to use condoms during sex when you know you could potentially spread HPV to your partner.
HPV is incredibly common, but it’s not as scary as it sounds. Use preventive measures such as condoms, the HPV vaccine, and HPV testing to take control of your sexual health.