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Information About the Human Papillomavirus (HPV)

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How Common Is HPV?

About 20 million people in the U.S. are infected with HPV at any time, according to the CDC. And three-fourths of sexually active people between ages 15 and 49 have been infected at some point in their lives, according to estimates from the American Social Health Association.

You're more likely to get HPV if you:

  • Have sex at an early age
  • Have many sex partners
  • Have a sex partner who has had multiple partners

While many people think HPV is mostly a problem for teens or young adults, HPV can infect men and women of any age. In fact, the latest statistics from the CDC found that:

  • 19% of women 50 to 59 were infected with HPV virus
  • 27% of women 20 to 24 were infected with HPV virus
  • 45% of women 14 to 19 were infected with HPV virus

What Happens During HPV Infection

Often, there are no symptoms of an HPV infection and the body clears the infection on its own over the course of a few years. Some people never know they were infected. In fact, research has found that about 90% of women infected with HPV show no traces of the virus within two years.

When an HPV infection with high-risk types persists, it can cause abnormal changes in the cells of the cervix which could lead to cancer. Rarely, it may also cause abnormal changes in penile and anal cells.

Reducing the Risk of Getting HPV

The only way to absolutely avoid the risk of HPV infection is to abstain from sex. You can also limit the number of sexual partners you have. And you can choose partners who've had few or no sexual partners before you. However, while a long-term monogamous relationship lowers your risk, it's important to remember that many people are infected and never know it.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Kirk Shibley, MD on February 16, 2012
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