The CDC reports that 79 million Americans have human papillomavirus and that there are 14 million new infections each year. They also state that, without the vaccine, almost every sexually active person will contract HPV at some point in their lives. Maybe you were already familiar with these figures. HPV is discussed pretty openly at this point by the medical community and those affected by it. Hey, I have HPV! I’ll tell you that, and I have several girlfriends who have told me that they have it, as well. Generally, the message surrounding it is, “It’s no big deal.” And, generally, that’s true. But it’s a bit more complicated than that.
For nearly a decade one of the cancer-causing strains of HPV has lain dormant in my body. It has been there, and now, it’s acting up, which has led to an influx of information coming my way that’s not as commonly discussed surrounding this topic. When doctors say something is “No big deal,” they are trying to give you the gift of peace of mind. They don’t want you worrying if you don’t need to. But, if you do find yourself in a position where you have to learn more because HPV does in fact become a big deal for you, you might be alarmed at how little doctors share with you surrounding all the ways HPV can play out in your lifetime. It’s anything but a straight line.
It can linger in the body
If doctors test you for HPV and the test comes back positive, but your pap smear is normal, they will likely say, “Okay, you’re fine.” Or, if you have an abnormal pap smear one year, accompanied by a positive HPV test, but the following several pap smears are normal, your doctor may say everything looks okay, leading you to believe that your HPV is gone. But HPV can linger in the body. Most strains can be cleared permanently, but not everyone is lucky. If it hasn’t cleared your body, when doctors say you’re fine, it’s because your HPV isn’t presenting symptoms. It’s “inactive” at the moment. But even if you clear a certain strain, there are many others that you can contract in your lifetime.