The Human Papilloma virus is the most common sexually transmitted infection with about 20 million Americans infected.  About half of sexually active men and women will acquire an HPV infection at some point in their life.  Currently, there are over 40 different types that can infect the genital areas of both men and women.  Most people who have HPV do not know that they have the disease.  Even if there are no symptoms it can still be spread to your partner.  This disease is important because it is responsible for abnormal pap smears and is the cause of cervical cancer.

Those who have symptoms of HPV may experience:

Genital warts: Genital warts usually appear as small bumps or groups of bumps most often in the genital area. They can be raised or flat, single or multiple, small or large, and sometimes cauliflower shaped. Warts may appear within weeks or months after sexual contact with an infected person, or they may not appear at all. If left untreated, genital warts may go away, remain unchanged, or increase in size or number. This form of the disease will not turn into cancer.

Cervical cancer: Cervical cancer does not have symptoms until it is quite advanced. For this reason, it is important for women to get a regular pap test to detect it early.  The pap test detects microscopic changes that HPV causes.  Usually, these changes can be picked up and treated long before cancer develops.

HPV is contracted through genital contact.  In 90% of cases a persons body is able to clear the HPV infection on its own, but a person will still be contagious until the infection is cleared.  There are no tests for a general HPV infection.  The only test on the market is used for cervical cancer screening.  The best way to protect yourself from HPV is not engaging in sexual activity until marriage and remaining faithful to your partner after marriage.

Human Papillomavirus Vaccination: In June of 2006, the FDA approved the vaccine, Gardasil, which was developed for the prevention of cervical cancer, pre-cancer and genital warts due to human papillomavirus (HPV) infectionxxviii. The vaccine is designed to prevent the types of HPV that cause approximately 70% of cervical cancers and 90% of genital warts cases.  It does not protect against less common strains or strains not yet discovered.  Additionally, it cannot protect someone who has already contracted the HPV types included in the vaccine.

The most commonly reported adverse reactions of the vaccine were: fever, nausea, dizziness, and injection-site pain.  Serious adverse reactions were:  Guillain-Barr√© Syndrome, blood clots, and 27 reported deaths.

Abstaining from sexual activity prior to marriage and fidelity after marriage is the best way to prevent STIs including HPV.