Human papillomavirus, or HPV, is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States. In fact, experts estimate that between 10 and 15 million people become newly infected with HPV every year, and research suggests that HPV is so common that almost every person who is sexually active will get HPV at some time in their life if they don't get the HPV vaccine. Dr. Patel, can you tell us more about this common STI?
Certainly, Dr. Mayzik. HPV is most commonly spread through direct skin-to-skin contact during vaginal or anal sex, but it can also spread during oral sex. It does not spread through blood or body fluids.
Anyone who is sexually active can get HPV, and the virus can spread even when an infected person has no signs or symptoms. In some cases, symptoms only develop years after sexual contact with an infected person, making it difficult to know when the infection started.
In most cases, HPV goes away on its own without causing any other health problems. When it doesn't go away, however, it can cause genital warts and cancer. HPV is especially linked to cervical cancer. An HPV infection can last up to several years. The longer the infection lasts, the higher the risk for developing cancer.
There is a vaccine for HPV that can protect against cancers caused by the virus. The vaccine is safe and effective for boys and girls starting at age 11 or 12. Catch-up vaccines are recommended for boys and men through age 21 and for girls and women through age 26.