Rite Aid's foremost concern is the health and wellness of our customers. And one of our biggest concerns is helping our customers avoid diseases like human papillomavirus (HPV). Genital human papillomavirus is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States. It infects the genital regions of both males and females, and there are over 40 different types of the virus. These different types can also infect other areas of the body, like the throat and mouth. Though sometimes confused, HPV is not the same as HIV (the virus that causes AIDS) or herpes (HSV) - all are sexually transmitted viruses, but each causes different and distinct symptoms and health problems.
About 79 million people in the U.S. are currently infected with HPV and approximately 14 million become newly infected each year. Most people have no symptoms and are unaware that they are infected. While most HPV infections eventually go away as the body clears the virus, some people will develop persistent, high-risk HPV infections, which may lead to cervical and other types of rare cancers. The American Cancer Society estimates that over 12,000 women will be diagnosed with cervical cancer and more that 4,000 will die from cervical cancer in the U.S. in 2016.
What are the symptoms of HPV?
Symptoms or health problems are normally not experienced by those who have human papillomavirus. In most instances, a person's immune system will clear the virus. However, there is no way of telling which HPV carriers will not clear the virus and experience health problems.
- Genital warts (men and women) can sometimes be a result of certain types of HPV. On rare occasions, these types can also cause warts inside the throat - a condition called Recurrent Respiratory Papillomatosis (RRP).
- Other forms of HPV can cause normal body cells to turn abnormal, which could possibly lead to cancer. These HPV types can cause cervical cancer and other, rarer forms of cancer, including: cancer of the vulva, vagina, anus, penis, and oropharynx (the area around the back of the throat, the base of the tongue, and the tonsils).
The HPV types that can lead to genital warts are not the same types that can lead to cancer.
How is HPV prevented?
Both males and females can be protected from some of the most common types of HPV by vaccination. HPV vaccines are safe and effective. They are administered in three doses over a six-month period. It is crucial to get all three doses to ensure the best protection from HPV. The vaccines are most effective when administered at 11 or 12 years of age.
- Females: Three vaccines (Cervarix®, Gardasil® and Gardasil 9®) are available to protect against the types of HPV that cause most cervical cancers. Two (Gardasil® and Gardasil 9®) also protect against most genital warts. These vaccines have also been shown to protect against vaginal, vulvar and anal cancers. All vaccines are recommended for girls 11 and 12 years old, and for females 13 through 26 who did not receive any or all doses when they were younger.
- Males: Two vaccines (Gardasil® and Gardasil 9®) protect males against most genital warts and anal cancers. They are also recommended for boys aged 11 or 12 years, and for males 13 through 21 who did not get any or all of the three recommended doses when they were younger.
HPV vaccine is also recommended for gay and bisexual men, as well as men and women who have compromised immune systems (e.g. HIV/AIDS) through age 26 who did not get any or all of the doses when they were younger.
Condoms may lower the risk of HPV infection for those individuals who are sexually active. Using them for every sex act, from start to finish, is most effective. Condom use may also lower the danger of contracting HPV-related diseases like cervical cancer and genital warts. However, HPV can infect areas NOT covered by a condom - so condoms are not guaranteed protection from HPV.
Individuals can also lessen the risk of contracting human papillomavirus by being in a monogamous relationship, limiting their number of sex partners, and being with a partner who has had no, or few, prior sex partners. But people with a single, lifetime sex partner can still contract HPV. It may not even be apparent if a partner who has been sexually active in the past is currently infected. Abstinence the only sure way to avoid sexually transmitted HPV.
What are the treatments for HPV?
A treatment for human papillomavirus does not exist, but there are treatments for HPV-related problems:
- Genital warts that are visible may remain the same, grow in numbers, or go away entirely on their own. They can be eliminated with medication by the patient, or a doctor can treat them. Some may choose not to treat their warts, and no single treatment is more effective than another.
- Often abnormal cervical cells, discovered on a Pap test, can revert to normal over time, but sometimes they can result in cancer. If the cells remain abnormal, they can typically be treated to prevent cervical cancer from forming. Treatments and treatment options may vary based on the severity of the cell changes, age of patient, medical history, and other test results. Following up with testing and treatment, as recommended by a physician, is crucial.
- Cervical cancer responds best to treatment when it is diagnosed early. Problems discovered can typically be treated, depending on their severity, the woman's age, medical history, and other test results. Routine cervical cancer exams and follow up as prescribed by their doctor, can discover problems before cancer even develops. Preventing a disease like HPV is; always better than treating it.
- Other HPV-related cancers respond to treatment better when diagnosed early.
- Recurrent Respiratory Papillomatosis (RRP) can be treated with medicine or surgery. RRP treatments and surgeries can sometimes last a period of years.