Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI), and least 50% of sexually active people will have HPV at some point in their lives. There are more than 40 types of HPV that can infect the genital areas of males and females. These HPV types can also infect the mouth and throat.
In most cases HPV goes away by itself before it causes any health problems, and most people who become infected with HPV do not even know they have it. However, HPV can cause serious health problems, including genital warts and certain cancers.
How do people get HPV?
HPV is passed on through contact with the genital area of an infected person, most often during vaginal, anal, and oral sex. HPV can be passed on even when the infected person has no signs or symptoms.
Most infected persons do not realize they are infected, or that they are passing HPV on to a sex partner. A person can still have HPV, even if years have passed since he or she has had sexual contact with an infected person. It is also possible to get more than one type of HPV.
What are the potential health problems caused by HPV?
Most people with HPV never develop symptoms or health problems. Most HPV infections (90%) go away by themselves within two years. But, sometimes, HPV infections will persist and can cause a variety of serious health problems, including:
- Genital warts
- Recurrent respiratory papillomatosis (RRP), a rare condition in which warts grow in the throat.
- Cervical cancer
- Other, less common, but serious cancers, including genital cancers and a type of head and neck cancer called oropharyngeal cancer.
All cases of genital warts, RRP, and nearly all cases of cervical cancer, are caused by HPV.
How can HPV be prevented?
There are several ways that people can lower their chances of getting HPV:
- Vaccination–HPV vaccines are recommended males and females ages 11-26. HPV vaccines are safe and effective, and can protect males and females against some of the most common types of HPV that can lead to disease and cancer. HPV vaccines are given in three shots over six months; it is important to get all three doses to get the best protection.
- Use Condoms–Condoms may lower the risk of HPV and the risk of developing HPV-related diseases, such as genital warts and cervical cancer. However, HPV can infect areas that are not covered by a condom – so condoms may not fully protect against HPV.
- Abstinence/Monogamous Relationships–You can reduce your chances of getting HPV by being in a faithful relationship with one partner; limiting your number of sex partners; and choosing a partner who has had no or few prior sex partners.
Paying for the Vaccine:
If you are under 19, Michigan law requires the consent of a parent to receive the vaccine. Many health insurance companies will cover the cost of vaccinations. If not, a program called Vaccines for Children (VFC) will cover the cost.
If you are 19 to 26 years of age and do not have medical insurance that covers vaccination, you may be eligible for Free vaccine through a patient assistance program or the Michigan Adult Vaccine Program. Contact your local health department office for additional information.
For additional information about HPV and vaccination, please visit the following sites: