It was my freshman year of college. I had just finished a year of excellent grades, good times, and sexual adventure. Always one to practice safe sex on my sexcapades and get tested every few months, it came as a surprise when my doctor said that my pap smear came back abnormal, and I tested positive for low-risk HPV cells.
Really? But how?
The Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted virus in the United States. At least 50% of sexually active adults will get genital HPV, and yes, it can be transmitted through condoms. There are over 40 types of HPV that impact the genital areas of men and women in addition to HPV types that infect the mouth and throat, including HPV strands that lead to genital warts and cervical cancer.
Thankfully, the body’s immune system naturally clears up 90% of HPV cases within two years. But the majority of people with HPV don’t even know that they have it, and it’s nearly impossible to test for the virus in men.
As I lay there freaked out that I had contracted a sexually transmitted virus, I wondered if HPV truly was as common as my doctor said. I began to ask my closest girlfriends, and nearly all had the same experience. Some were in the same monogamous relationship as they were in high school, while others were exploring their dating options. It seemed that HPV was unavoidable, but worse that it hit some of my girlfriends harder than others.
One of my bestfriends had both high-risk and low-risk HPV cells on her cervix. After six months, it appeared that the high-risk cells were spreading and becoming pre-cancerous. At twenty years old, she had to have a large chunk of her cervix removed under a LEEP procedure to get rid of the cells, which likely will cause complications if she decides to pursue pregnancy.
I recognized that I was lucky for my immune system to naturally clear up my low-risk HPV cells, and that I never needed surgery. But I did wonder why my parents hadn’t insisted that I get the HPV vaccination or why I had never heard of the various impacts of HPV until I contracted it.
1. The Gardasil vaccine is available to protect against most HPV strands that lead to genital warts (in men and women) and cervical cancer. The Ceravix vaccine also is available to protect women against most cervical cancers.
2. Pap tests are great for detecting HPV and abnormal cells that could lead to cervical cancer. The test is painless, simply allowing a doctor to brush your cervix for cells and submit them to be tested. The laboratory will detect if any cells are abnormal. It’s recommended that women get a pap test approximately every 6 months.
3. If you contract HPV, strengthening your immune system through healthy eating and exercise could make all the difference in your body fighting off the virus as quickly as possible. Eat right, take your vitamins, and work out. You want to give your body all the ammunition it needs to clear up the infection.
If you’ve ever experienced HPV, you’d know that it’s quite scary at first for many people. Share your story as it likely will help someone else going through an HPV infection.