Smart Jane™ tests for gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis, mycoplasma genitalium, and 19 strains of HPV, and it provides you with information about vaginal risk factors. In this blog post, we wanted to discuss HPV in particular. It’s the most common sexually transmitted infection in the US. If you or someone you know tests positive, you may wonder, now what?
First, schedule a visit with the healthcare provider that ordered the test. They will already have your test results from uBiome and will be able to help you with your next steps.
Know that most people with healthy immune systems will clear the virus naturally within six months to two years. If the high-risk virus does not clear, it can change normal cells into abnormal cells, which have the potential to turn into cancer. About 10% of people with high-risk strains will develop these long-lasting HPV infections that put them at risk for cervical cancer. However, HPV can take decades to develop into cervical cancer, and there are things you can do now to reduce your risk and support your body in clearing the virus.
For example, the healthcare provider may recommend more frequent pap smears. Paps check for the presence of abnormal, or precancerous, cervical cells and cancerous cervical cells. You may find you are positive for high-risk HPV but have a normal pap smear. In other words, your cervical cells are normal, but HPV is present. If the pap smear is abnormal, meaning abnormal cervical cells were detected, your doctor may want to take a closer look with a colposcopy, biopsy the cells, and possibly remove them to prevent cervical cancer. If you develop warts, a doctor can remove them. After the removal of warts or abnormal cervical cells, the virus itself may still exist and can be spread.
With the information uBiome provides about your vaginal flora, you can also take measures to to help your body clear HPV. Studies have shown a vaginal microbiome with an abundance of Lactobacillus bacteria can protect against the acquisition and persistence of HPV. Here are a few things you can do routinely to promote Lactobacilli growth and limit the growth of other bacteria:
- Take pre- and probiotics that contain lactobacilli.
- Avoid douching and vaginal soaps, which can eliminate lactobacilli.
- Eat plain, lactobacillus-containing yogurt and fermented foods, like kimchi and sauerkraut, and drink fermented beverages, like kombucha.
- Avoid cigarette smoking, as smoking has been linked to decreased amounts of vaginal lactobacillus.
You’ll also want to continue to protect yourself and any sexual partners. HPV is spread primarily through genital-to-genital contact, including vaginal and anal intercourse and rubbing genitals together. Using condoms and dental dams can reduce the risk of transmission significantly (but not completely). The most effective way to reduce HPV transmission is abstaining from genital-to-genital contact. More research is needed on HPV transmission via sex toys. If you’re sharing sex toys, disinfect them per the manufacturer’s recommendations and put a new condom on them between each partner’s use. Additionally, there is no HPV test for people with penises, so right now low-risk HPV can only be detected if they have warts. Whether or not you’ve tested positive for STIs, discussing STI testing and history prior to any sexual contact is important for a fully consensual intimate experience.
If you want more information about body literacy, informed choice, and consent, find us at The Fifth Vital Sign.