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HPV 101: What you need to know

UHS offers HPV vaccinations and no-cost screening for sexually transmitted infections (STIs)

We won’t give you the full list, but yes, there are 101 strains of human papillomavirus (HPV). More than 101 actually. But before you get too worried, only 12 strains are high-risk, and about 40 affect the genital area.

HPV is a sexually transmitted infection with few symptoms except for genital warts and genital itching. The best way to limit your risk of contracting HPV is to practice safe sex and use latex condoms or dental dams.

Most people who are infected don’t even know they have HPV, but 85 to 95 percent of sexually active people will contract HPV. Most HPV strains cause little to no harm but without medical treatment, some of the high-risk strains can result in genital warts and/or cervical cancer.

Dr. Patrick Kelly, interim director of Medical Services at UHS, explains that HPV is not always a long-term infection.

“Your body’s immune system recognizes it’s infected with a virus and the body will rid itself of HPV in the majority of cases. It only has persistence in 10 to 20 percent of cases.”

Jenny Kind, the UHS Community Health and Epidemiology Nurse Clinician, explains HPV can be linked to throat cancer and other effects.

“Some people may have constant coughing, pain in their throat, or a masses in their neck. Also, vulvar or penile cancers can cause changes in the color or the thickness of your skin in those regions,” Kind says.

Both Kind and Kelly encourage the use of condoms and recommend students get vaccinated against HPV.

“The HPV vaccine protects against the more prevalent cases of HPV, as well as genital warts and cervical cancer,” says Kind.

Getting vaccinated required a series of three shots, each separated by a few months. All three shots are required to be fully protected against HPV.

“The vaccine protects against nine strains of HPV. Essentially, the one vaccine is like getting treated nine times,” says Kelly.

The HPV vaccine is available at UHS for a fee. Students with SHIP insurance can get vaccinated at no cost. Genital warts can be removed in the Sexual Health Clinic or Women’s Health Clinic. UHS also offers no-cost screenings for STIs. To set up a vaccination appointment, log in to MyUHS or call 608-265-5600.

Written by Emilie Burditt, UHS Communications Assistant