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14 Facts About HPV You Should Know

There are currently around 79 million Americans infected with HPV. That's about 1 in 4 people.

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1. HPV stands for human papillomavirus.

Here's a 3D rendering of the virus.
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Here's a 3D rendering of the virus.

2. HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection.

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Approximately 600 million people are infected worldwide.

3. There are around 79 million people infected with HPV in the United States.

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And 14 million new infections every year.

4. Which means that 1 in 4 Americans are HPV carriers.

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5. About 90% of men and 80% of women will be infected with HPV at some point in their lives if they are sexually active. But most will clear the infection on their own without treatment, usually within one to two years.

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6. There are over 200 related viruses classified as human papillomaviruses, and most are low-risk.

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However, there around 13 high-risk types directly linked to malignant cancers.

7. Nearly all cases of cervical cancer are caused by HPV.

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HPV 16 and HPV 18 are linked to over 70% of cervical cancer cases. In addition, HPV can cause cancer of the cervix, penis, vulva, vagina, anus, and oropharynx.

8. The infection is usually spread through sexual contact.

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Even if there are no symptoms, or if you have only one sexual partner, there's still a risk to contract HPV via sexual contact.

9. Some types of HPV can cause warts in or on the genitals or anus, which look like bumps or small bumps, or might be cauliflower-like in appearance.

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10. But you probably won’t know you have HPV just by looking. Most HPV types, including the ones most likely to cause cancer, may not cause any symptoms at all.

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The infection is often asymptomatic. And if the virus persists in the body, it can take years, even decades, to cause problems. That means if a steady partner develops HPV-related health issues, such as precancerous or cancerous cervical lesions, it doesn't necessarily mean your partner has been unfaithful.

11. The high-risk viruses can be detected with an HPV test, which picks up signs of viral DNA. But not everyone with the virus will develop cancer or have other health problems. In women, a Papanicolaou test, or Pap smear, can detect precancerous changes in the cervix caused by the virus.

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Talk to your doctor about testing, but women are generally recommended to get their first Pap smear at age 21 (although the HPV test is also used in some cases).

12. Condoms can help prevent HPV from spreading when used properly, but they aren't always effective.

Because condoms are typically only applied for penetration, and because HPV can spread through other types of sexual contact, they're not always effective for preventing the spread of HPV — but they certainly help.
Rclassenlayouts / Getty Images

Because condoms are typically only applied for penetration, and because HPV can spread through other types of sexual contact, they're not always effective for preventing the spread of HPV — but they certainly help.

13. There are several different HPV vaccines, which can prevent infection with some of the most common cancer- and wart-causing HPV types.

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The vaccines are recommended for adolescent boys and girls because the shots are most effective when given before people become sexually active. Here are the HPV vaccine recommendations from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

14. Most health insurance policies cover the HPV vaccine, and there are programs that can help uninsured individuals get the vaccine for low or no cost.

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This post was translated from Portuguese.

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