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It’s cold, uninviting and requires a visit. No, it’s not a trip to see your in-laws; it’s the gynecologist. We have a viral epidemic on our hands that causes genital warts and cervical cancer, HPV (human papillomavirus). Can’t remember when your last pap was (finger wags)? Well, call tomorrow and get one on the books. Know where you stand.

HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection, passed through contact of infected genital skin. At lest 50 percent of men and women who are having sex will contract the virus at some point. Partially due to the lack of symptoms folks, don’t know they are infected and may have unprotected sex with false notions that they are clean. In fact 90% of women who have HPV have not known for years, showing no indication of the virus.

What is very important to remember is that while condoms are not a surefire way to prevent HPV, they are the best way to protect yourself and reduce risk of exposure. HPV may be hanging out on skin that is not covered by a condom, so be smart about your relations.

In some cases the virus can be cleared by a strong immune system, though this is not a guarantee, because some strains of HPV are more resistant. Now it’s important to know that once you have HPV, you will always have it. This doesn’t mean that you will have symptoms; it just means that it will lie dormant and may present itself when the immune system is burdened.  Staying as healthy as possible is a way to avoid further health complications. You may notice a correlation between high stress or the flu for example when you test for abnormal cells linked to HPV in a pap test. On the contrary, your test may come up negative when you’ve been taking really good care of yourself physically, emotionally and mentally.

Make sure to stay on top of routine gynecological exams and Pap tests. If anything seems different in your vaginal or rectal region, please don’t delay in getting it checked out. Since chances of having HPV increase with multiple partners, be very thoughtful about who you have sex with and your number of partners. Practice good self care and honor your body with proactive action. Keep stress at a minimum, eat nutritious meals and consult a health provider about nutritional supplements to boost your immune system.

As black women, we must stay up on prevention and pass along our wisdom. By connecting with our gynecological wellness, we connect with our overall vitality and the health of a community of women. Knowing your HPV status does not define an outcome, but it should inspire to achieve greater total health. HPV is very common and your immune health can help keep it in check. Women should begin seeing the gynecologist when they become sexually active or when they reach age 18, which ever comes first, and new guidelines say you can now wait about three to five years between exams.Stay aware and stay well.

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