Say Ah: HPV

By Donna Patrick, ANP
Special to the Sun Star

Q:  What is HPV?

A: Human Papillomavirus or HPV is a commonly transmitted sexual disease (STD).  There are more than 40 types of HPV.  Certain types can cause genital warts in males and females.  Other HPV types can cause cervical cancer in females.  Most people with HPV don’t develop symptoms or health problems from it.  In 90% of cases, the body’s immune system clears HPV naturally within two years.

Q:  What does it look like?

A: Genital warts usually appear as a small flesh colored bump or groups of bumps in the genital area.  They can be small or large, raised or flat, or shaped like a cauliflower.  Health care providers can diagnose warts by looking at them during an office visit. They are easily treated in the clinic.  Warts can appear within weeks or months after sexual contact with an infected partner; even if the infected partner has no signs of genital warts.  If left untreated, genital warts might go away, remain unchanged, or increase in size and number.  They will not turn into cancer.

Unless quite advanced, cervical cancer usually doesn’t have symptoms.  This is why it is important for women to get regular cancer screening, Pap tests.  Screening tests can find early signs of disease so that the problems can be treated early, before they turn into cancer.

Q:  Is it true guys can now get the vaccine for HPV?

A: Yes, males 9 through 26 years of age may get the HPV vaccine to prevent genital warts.  As with females, it is best to be vaccinated before the first sexual contact.

Q:  Why should I get vaccinated?

A: HPV vaccine is important because it can prevent most cases of cervical cancer in females, if it is given before a person is exposed to the virus.

Protection from HPV vaccine is expected to be long-lasting. But vaccination is not a substitute for cervical cancer screening. Women should still get regular Pap tests.

In addition to preventing cervical cancer, it can also prevent vaginal and vulvar cancer in females, and genital warts in both males and females.

Q: Can I get the vaccine series at the UAF Student Health and Counseling Center?

A: Yes.  The cost of the vaccine is $145.00 per injection (three are needed over a 6 month period).  The Student Health insurance will not pay for these vaccines.  If you have a different health insurance plan you may want to check directly with your policy to see if they will cover the cost of the vaccine. In addition, the manufacturer of the vaccine has a patient assistance program for those who qualify.

Q:  I’m a guy and I was told I couldn’t be tested for HPV.  Is that true?

A:  Yes.  At this time the only HPV tests on the market are those used to help screen for cervical cancer during a woman’s Pap test.  There is no general test for men or women to check for overall “HPV status” such as a blood test used to check for Hepatitis B or HIV.

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