Introduction: What is HPV?
The Human Papillomavirus is a very common sexually transmitted infection that affects almost all sexually active individuals. It is different from HIV and HSV and is a group of over 150 related viruses. There are many types of HPV affecting both males and females. As a matter of fact, anyone that indulges in any form of sexual activity involving genital contact is at risk of getting infected with HPV. For the most people the infection is harmless and without symptoms but for others, the virus may persist and lead to serious diseases or health problems. It is true that most people who have HPV infections are not even aware of it. This is because most HPV infections have no harmful effect and can go on their own.
Generally, harmful HPV viruses are grouped as either low-risk or high-risk HPV. Low-risk HPV infections may lead to genital diseases such as genital warts. High-risk HPV, on the other hand, is responsible for almost all cases of cervical cancer. High-risk HPV may also lead to anal, throat, vulva, penile and oropharyngeal cancers. Studies have revealed that four out of every five persons have at least one type of HPV at one point in their lives.
How is HPV Spread?
HPV is spread mainly by skin contact during sexual activity through tiny breaks in the genital skin. The virus can be spread without causing any known damage or immediate problems. The use of condoms may offer some but not total protection from the infection because they do not cover the entire genital skin. However, they offer protection for other forms of STD’s and unwanted pregnancy. Generally, you can be infected with HPV by having sexual intercourse with anyone who has the virus. It can be passed even if the infected person has no signs or symptoms. It is difficult to know when you first contacted the infection because symptoms may appear years after. However, in most cases, HPV goes away on its own. But if it persists, can lead to health problems or cancers. The longer the virus remains in the body, the higher the risk of developing health problems.
HPV and Cancer
The high-risk type of HPV can cause cervical cancer, vagina, throat, vulva, anus and penis cancer. Generally, HPV is responsible for almost all cervical cancer cases. It is true that some HPV infections go away by themselves but abnormal cells can develop when high-risk HPV viruses do not go away. If these cells are not detected and treated, they can lead to cancer. It is not yet known why some people develop long-term HPV infections and eventually cancer. But it is true that women whose immune system cannot fight infections are at high risk of developing cervical cancer. However, cancer may take years or even decades to develop after a person gets HPV.
You can lower your chances of HPV infection by vaccination or by cervical cancer screening for women. Also, if you are sexually active, you should use latex condoms correctly every time you have sex. You should note however that condom may not give full protection since HPV can affect areas that are not covered.
Symptoms and Diagnosis
The HPV virus lives in the mucous membrane especially those around the genital area. Genital warts is an indication of the HPV and are as a result of low-risk HPV. It is a common way HPV is diagnosed. Some people may have a single wart while others may be multiple. They can also vary in shape and size and can be found on the anus, cervix, groin, penis or even thighs. Genital warts may appear within weeks or months of sexual intercourse with a person with HPV virus. If a person is infected with high-risk HPV, precancerous changes may occur in cells of the tissue without necessarily causing any symptoms.
Human papillomavirus is very common and may affect almost all sexually active persons at one point in their lives. One good way to reduce the risk of infection is to be in a mutually monogamous relationship. This will reduce the risk of contracting the Human Papillomavirus and other sexually transmitted infections. Health related problems such as genital warts and cervical precancer can be treated with the Vaccine. Other HPV-related cancers can also be treated if they are diagnosed early. However, you should keep in mind that not all HPV infections would lead to health problems.