HPV - What You Need to Know

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

HPV, or the human papillomavirus, has become a bit of a buzz word lately, especially with the release of vaccines like Gardasil and the controversy surrounding it. Although this will not be a discussion about vaccines, I am careful about what I say to patients about them. It is my belief that everyone should make their own choices about their health, and that includes vaccines and whether or not to have them. I encourage people to always get all the information before doing so, so that they may make an informed decision. It is my job to give them information and allow them to decide for themselves. Below I have listed some helpful resources about HPV and the Gardasil vaccine so that you may read up on them if you like.

What is HPV?

There are approximately 70 types of human papillomavirus which infect the skin and mucous membranes that have been identified. There are many different types of HPV which affect different parts of the body. The types that are most commonly associated with genital infections are types 6, 12, 16, 18, 31, 33 and 35. Infections of these types typically occur through mucous membranes or traumatized skin, although oral infection is also possible.

Certain types of HPV have been strongly associated with certain types of cervical, vulval and anal cancer in women (types 16, 18 and 31). There is also thought to be a connection with certain HPV types with anal and penile cancer in men. Approximately *11,000 women will be diagnosed with cervical cancer each year in the United States.

The HPV virus is so common, that it is estimated that most sexually active people will be infected at some point in their lives. There are presently *79 million people infected with the HPV virus in the United States.

30 strains of HPV are sexually transmitted and approximately 15 are thought to lead to various cancers if the HPV infection persists over a long period of time. In the majority of cases the HPV virus resolves on its own with a healthy immune system in about 2 years.

There are currently *79 million people infected with HPV in the US. There are *14 million new cases of HPV diagnosed every year.

HPV Transmission

So, how is HPV spread? Well different types are spread in different ways. Most are spread through skin to skin contact and through abrasions or tears in the skin. The genital types of HPV are spread through contact with infected genital skin, mucous membranes or bodily fluids and are spread through sexual contact (not necessarily intercourse), vaginal sex, anal sex or oral sex. Because many people are carriers of the virus but have no symptoms, practicing safe sex is a good way to cut your risk of getting the virus. People can develop symptoms for HPV years after their initial contact, so it is sometimes difficult to figure out where you got the initial infection. Remember, that using condoms does not keep you safe from the infection if it is located in other regions other than the penis.

HPV and Genital Warts

Certain types of HPV cause genital warts. About *360,000 new cases of genital warts are diagnosed in the US each year. Most cases of genital warts are asymptomatic so it is possible to have the strain of HPV responsible for genital warts without manifesting the warts themselves. This means they can be spread even if the person has no symptoms. When they do appear, genital warts are pinkish brown masses, usually in clusters on the penis, vulva, cervix, perineal or perianal region. They can appear anytime between one and eight months or more after infection and then resolve spontaneously after one to two years.

HPV Vaccine

The original Gardasil vaccine, which was first released in 2006, protects against four strains of the HPV virus - 6, 11, 16 and 18. In 2014 the FDA approved Gardasil 9 which vaccinated against five additional types of the HPV virus (making a total of nine) - 31, 33, 45, 52 and 58. If you are already infected with one of the nine types of HPV, getting vaccinated will not eliminate the infection. Please do your research before considering the vaccine. There are many helpful resources that you can use to read up on the vaccine and its effects. Some are listed at the end of this article.


Pap Tests Prevent HPV : Chinese Medicine Living

HPV Prevention

In the last 5 decades pap tests have become part of most women's yearly health screening, and are by far the best, least expensive and least dangerous way to prevent cervical cancers. Cervical cancer has become one of the most preventable and treatable forms of cancer. Regular pap tests can identify chronic HPV infections and pre cancerous cervical lesions so that they can be removed and treated before they can develop into cervical cancer.

Cervical cancer rates have dropped more than 70% in the United States since the 1960's when pap tests became a routine part of women's health care. Your risks can be greatly reduced if you practice safe sex by using condoms, and by having regular pap tests. Other risk factors include:

  • smoking
  • infection with other STD's like chlamydia or HIV
  • weakened or compromised immune system
  • long term use of the birth control pill

Healthy Lifestyle & HPV : Chinese Medicine Living

Eating a healthy diet, getting adequate sleep, exercising regularly and getting enough vitamin D are important to maintaining a healthy immune system. Because HPV is so ubiquitous, most people are likely to become infected at some point throughout their lives. But, if we stay healthy chances are that it will resolve on its own and never become a life threatening problem. So keep healthy, practice safe sex and ladies, keep getting regular pap tests to keep the lady parts healthy too. :)

I will follow this article with one on how we identify and treat HPV in Chinese medicine as well as prevention including dietary therapy so stay tuned!


*These are statistics from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control)



Gardasil Vaccine - from the Gardasil Website

HPV Vaccine Can Make You Susceptible to More Serious Strains of HPV 

The HPV Vaccine: Herd Immunity or Human Sacrifice?

The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) - HPV Vaccine - Questions & Answers

WHO (World Health Organization) Vaccinating Against Cervical Cancer

Mushroom Extract Might Eradicate HPV Infection

National Cancer Institute - What are Human Papillomavirus Vaccines?


Peace Love & Acupuncture Button : Chinese Medicine Living

HPV - What You Need to Know : Chinese Medicine Living