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What is HPV (Human Papillomavirus)?

HPV stands for Human Papillomavirus, which is a group of related viruses. It is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) worldwide. HPV is transmitted through intimate skin-to-skin contact, and it can affect both males and females.

There are many different types of HPV, and some can cause health problems including genital warts and cancers. HPV infections are usually temporary and most people clear the virus on their own. However, persistent infections with high-risk HPV types can increase the risk of developing cancers, particularly cervical cancer in women.

Causes

HPV is primarily transmitted through intimate skin-to-skin contact. The most common modes of transmission include:

Sexual Contact: HPV is mainly spread through vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone who has the virus. It can be transmitted even if the infected person doesn’t have signs or symptoms.

Direct Skin-to-Skin Contact: HPV can be spread through close skin-to-skin contact, not limited to sexual activity. This can include touching, rubbing, or close contact in areas not covered by condoms.

Vertical Transmission: A mother with genital HPV can potentially transmit the virus to her baby during childbirth, though this is less common.

Shared Surfaces: While less common, HPV can also be spread by sharing towels or other personal items with an infected person, particularly if the person has warts.

Also Read: Sexual Wellness and Better Health: 11 FAQs About Sex Marathon

Symptoms

Human Papillomavirus (HPV) infections often do not cause any symptoms, and most people with HPV are unaware that they are infected. However, certain strains of the virus can cause symptoms and health issues. The symptoms may include:

Genital Warts: One of the most common visible signs of HPV infection is the development of genital warts. These warts may appear as small, raised bumps or clusters resembling cauliflower.

Respiratory Papillomatosis: In rare cases, HPV can cause warts in the respiratory tract, leading to respiratory papillomatosis. This can affect breathing and require medical intervention.

Throat Cancer: Persistent infection with certain high-risk HPV types, particularly HPV 16 and 18, can increase the risk of developing cancers, including throat cancer.

Cervical Changes: HPV infection is a major risk factor for cervical cancer. Regular Pap smears or HPV tests are essential for detecting abnormal changes in cervical cells early.

Facts

HPV is a very common STI. Among 15- to 59-year-olds, 2 in 5 (40%) people will have HPV. There are many different types of HPV including some that do not cause any health problems.

Human papillomavirus is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the United States. (Source)

Risk Factors

The following are the risk factors

  • Having many sexual partners. The more sexual partners you have and the more partners your partner has, the higher your risk of contracting Human Papillomavirus is. 
  • Sexual behavior in childhood. Early adolescent sexual activity increases HPV risk. 
  • Additional STIs (sexually transmitted infections). You are more likely to contract HPV if you also have other STIs like chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, or HIV/AIDS
  • A weak immune system. If your immune system is weak due to another medical condition and you have Human Papillomavirus, you may be more likely to develop cervical cancer. 
  • Smoking. The risk of squamous cell cervical cancer increases with smoking. 
  • Exposure to a drug used to prevent miscarriages. 

Prevention

To lower your chance of getting HPV –

  • Getting an HPV vaccine may lower your risk of developing cervical cancer and other cancers linked to HPV. Ask your doctor if you should get the HPV vaccine. 
  • Get regular Pap tests. Pap tests can identify cervix precancerous conditions, allowing for their monitoring or treatment to stop cervical cancer.
  • Sex should be safe. By taking steps to prevent STDs, like using a condom each time you have sex and reducing the number of partners you have for sex.

It’s important to note that the majority of HPV infections, even those with high-risk types, do not lead to cancer. In many cases, the immune system clears the virus naturally. Vaccination against HPV, particularly before the onset of sexual activity, is a key preventive measure. Regular screenings for cervical cancer are also crucial for early detection and management of HPV-related health problems in women. If you suspect you have HPV or experience any unusual symptoms, consult with a healthcare professional for proper evaluation and guidance.

Treatment

Regarding HPV, there is no cure. The majority of HPV infections don’t harm you and are eliminated by your body in two years. If HPV results in issues such as genital warts or changes to cervix cells, treatment are required.

Within two years, HPV naturally disappears without causing any health issues. However, if HPV is left untreated, it can lead to cancer and other health issues like genital warts. A small bump or cluster of bumps in the genital area is the typical appearance of genital warts.

By getting an Human Papillomavirus vaccine and undergoing screening tests, you can lower your risk of developing cervical cancer. 

Also Read: All About Genital Warts: Symptoms, Causes, Prevention, Facts