HPV or human papilloma virus is a group of about 100 different types of viruses that can affect various parts of the body. Being one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases, it has nearly 30 types, which primarily affect genitals including the vulva, vagina, cervix, penis, scrotum, rectum, and anus. Researchers usually keep track of all these types by giving them numbers, like 6, 11, 16, and 18. Of these, types 6 and 11 are known to cause genital warts, while types 16 and 18 can cause pre-cancerous changes in the cervix, which may eventually lead to cervical cancer. This can affect both men and women, especially those who are sexually active, irrespective of their color, race, or age. Since it spreads through sexual contact, research shows that about 80 percent of sexually active men and women get infected at some point or the other, but most of them are usually unaware of this virus.
How Does One Get Infected?
As mentioned before, this virus usually spreads by skin-to-skin contact with an infected patient during vaginal, anal, and rarely, oral sex. People who had sexual contact at an early age, have sex with partners who have had many sexual partners at some time, have a history of sexually transmitted diseases or do not wear condom while having sex are more prone to get infected with this. Hence, if a healthy person has a sexual intercourse with an infected partner, he or she will definitely contract the infection. Though rare, there are chances of a person contracting the infection from an infected mother during childbirth. Besides these, sharing personal items, like towels, combs, and clothes with an infected person can also be a major cause.
In most cases, this condition produces no symptoms, and the infected area of the body remains absolutely normal. But still, the virus can spread from an infected person to a normal person even if no symptoms are noticed. However, sometimes the patient may notice presence of warts or bumps in and around the genital areas. These symptoms may appear weeks, months, or even years after being infected by the virus. Moreover, studies show that certain strains of this disease can lead to cervical dysplasia, a condition wherein there are abnormal changes in the cells of cervix. If not treated well in time, this condition may even progress to cervical cancer.
Although there are no blood tests for this virus, some tests can help the doctor to detect the infection:
- Pap smear: The doctor examines the cells from the cervix for any abnormal changes.
- Colposcopy: The doctor uses an instrument called colposcope to magnify the view of the cervix in order to look for abnormal white-turned cells of the cervix after a vinegar solution is placed on it.
- DNA test: This diagnoses the genetic material (DNA) of the virus within a sample of cells.
In most cases where no symptoms of genital warts are noticed, the infection goes away on its own due to the action of the body's immune system with no treatment required. However, conditions wherein the infected area develops visible warts and abnormal cells in the cervix, treatment includes:
- Cryosurgery: The warts are frozen with liquid nitrogen.
- Loop Electrosurgical Excision Procedure (LEEP): In this process, a special wire loop is used to remove the abnormal cells.
- Electrocautery: The warts are burnt using an electric current.
- Laser therapy: An intense beam of light is used to destroy the genital warts and abnormal cervix cells.
- Prescription cream: It is to be applied on the warts.
This condition is preventable, as there are two vaccines available. One is Gardasil, which is given to young women between the age groups of 9 to 26 years. This vaccine is given in three shots over a period of 6 months, and basically works to prevent types of HPV that have been linked with cervical cancer. The first shot of vaccine is given at a time of your choice, and the second shot is given two months after the first shot, followed by the third shot which is given six months after the first shot. The second vaccine is Cervarix, which is given to girls between ages 10 to 25 years in order to protect against types 16 and 18. This vaccine is also given in three shots. If a person is already having HPV, then these vaccines won't cure the infection but will keep the person from getting infected by other types. However, there can be possibilities that one gets infected in spite of getting vaccinated.
Other ways of preventing is to have safe sex, i.e., using condoms every time you have sex and having sexual contact with only one partner who is faithful to you. This is because condoms are not 100 percent safe, as they do not cover the man's scrotum, which can be infected. Hence, having safe sex and with one partner can surely reduce the risks of contracting the virus. Also, since it is considered to be one of the causes of cervical cancer, it is necessary to make early diagnosis and follow the prescribed treatment in order to prevent the cancer from occurring. In fact, regular Pap tests are considered to be the best way to prevent cervical cancer, as if the pre-cancerous changes are detected and treated early, cervical cancer is almost curable.
This was all about the information on HPV transmission facts. Hopefully, it has been a little informative to you all, and to some extent, has provided a better idea about this infection.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.