HPV or the Human Papillomavirus is the term that is used collectively for about 100 different types of viruses. These viruses cause plantar and genital warts or other skin warts. They are also associated with cervical cancer, and cervical and vaginal dysplasia in women. Besides causing genital warts, HPV transmission in men manifests as anal cancer and penile cancer. While some are high risk varieties, others are not so harmful. Symptoms of HPV infection occur weeks and often months after the infection has actually taken place. On the skin, these warts occur in clusters giving rise to a cauliflower-like appearance. In women, these warts occur in the vagina, vulva, cervix or the anus. In men, they may appear as penal or anal warts.
Facts About HPV Transmission
- The virus is transmitted through skin-to-skin contact. Touching someone or something infected by the virus and then touching one's genital without washing your hands is one of the methods of transmission.
- Although a common sexually transmitted disease, intercourse is not always the only way of sexual transmission of the disease. Genital or sexual contact with one who is infected can cause transmission in a healthy individual.
- In most cases, sexual transmission of the virus is through vaginal or anal intercourse. Transmitting the virus through oral sex is also common.
- HPV transmission through non-sexual means is controversial. Although a study did show that the virus can be transmitted through handshake, more research is required in this direction.
- By this parameter, transmission through kissing is a possibility. As per medical practitioners, theoretically, mouth-to-mouth kissing should not transmit the virus. However, a study has shown that the French kiss does spread the virus. The probability of oral HPV infection increases with increase in the number of oral sex or open-mouthed kissing partners.
- An infected mother can pass this infection to her baby during delivery. This infection is manifested in children in the form of warts in the throat or voice box (known medically as laryngeal papillomatosis). To prevent this transmission, C-section during childbirth in women with genital warts is discouraged.
- The infection is NOT transmitted through towels, toilet seats or eating from the same bowl.
- Condoms are not foolproof in preventing HPV transmission.
- In case a child suffers from the infection, it is a strong indication of sexual abuse.
- Non-penetrative sexual contact is the reason for HPV transmission in virgins.
The best way to prevent HPV transmission is to avoid multiple sex partners. Committed couples who are strictly monogamous stand a less chance of contracting the infection. As this infection can be transmitted by touching one's genitals with infected hands, it is always advised to wash one's hand with a disinfectant before touching the genitals. During intercourse, it is best not to rely on condoms as they do not prevent the areas like the scrotum, vulva and the anus. These are places where the virus can survive and infect a healthy partner even during intimate encounters that do not include intercourse.
Female condoms provide better protection as they reduce skin-to-skin contact between the partners. HPV vaccine is another option for preventing transmission. Although this vaccine does not ensure complete immunity from the virus, it does provide protection from five types of HPV that are most commonly associated with cervical cancer and genital warts. These vaccines are recommended for women. Studies about the effectiveness of these vaccines in men is still being studied. Consumption of alcohol and tobacco, stress, and other viral infections like HIV or herpes, puts one at high risk of contracting the infection.
As already mentioned, one may carry the virus but might not be aware of the infection as it may take some time before the symptoms of genital warts or other skin warts become evident. Women are tested for HPV infection through a pap smear test that detects cell changes that can lead to cervical cancer. For men, there are no tests available to test HPV.
Do the above facts make you feel that abstinence is the only way of preventing HPV transmission? It definitely is a probable way, but the least feasible for most adults. The best way to prevent it is to be loyal to one's partner.
Disclaimer: This article is for informative purposes only, and is not meant to serve as a substitute for a medical expert's advice.