Lucy Gordon|30.05.2014|Feature Sex Life
The virus behind genital warts, cervical cancer, and Michael Douglas 

If you’re a sexually active man or woman, we’ve got some news for you: there’s a strong chance that you’ve had or will have Human pappilomavirus (HPV). You could even have it right now…So, should you be worried?

1. There are over 100 strains of HPV


HPV infects skin and mucus membranes (the throat, mouth, vagina, cervix, and anus). There are more than 100 strains of HPV and each is numbered. About 40 strains infect the anal and genital regions.

2. You’ll probably get the virus


Most people get the virus at some point in their lives—though they’ll probably never know it. In most cases, there are no symptoms and the virus clears itself up in a few months. You can contract HPV from someone, even if they show no symptoms, through oral, vaginal and anal sex, and kissing.

3. There’s no treatment that can get rid of HPV


Some types (mainly strains 6 and 11) can cause rather unsightly genital warts—sometimes with a cauliflower-like appearance (sorry cauliflower lovers!). There’s no treatment for HPV though a healthcare worker can provide cream or freezing treatment for warts. If you’ve got the fleshly little bumps, you should abstain from sexual activities until they’ve totally cleared up.

4. HPV is linked to some types of cancer


Unfortunately, HPV is linked to something a lot uglier than warts. Remember when Michael Douglas reckoned he’d picked up throat cancer from oral sex? Certain HPV strains can develop into various cancers—including vulva, penis, anus, vagina, throat, and cervical cancer.

5. HPV is spread through sex and skin-to-skin contact


If you are having sex, there’s no real way to protect yourself from HPV. Using condoms will lower your risk of catching the virus. However, condoms don’t cover the entire genital area so HPV can still be passed through by skin-to-skin contact. Even if you’re only having sex with one person, one of you could carry it without symptoms for years.

6. But a vaccine against HPV is available


If you’re a girl below a certain age you can get vaccinated against certain HPV strains. Again, the age at which vaccination is recommended varies from country to country (in the UK, for example, it’s given as standard to girls aged from 12 to 13 years old). Some organisations recommend the vaccine for gay and bisexual men who are more at risk of strains that cause anal cancer.

The vaccination does not offer full protection though—so women should still get regular cervical screening tests (to look for changes in cells caused by HPV).

Before reading this post, did you know much about HPV? Leave yours answers below.

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