HPV or human papillomavirus is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases. With over 40 kinds of sexually transmitted HPV, 20 million individuals in the US alone are infected with this virus. Usually, the virus doesn’t lead to severe symptoms. But, in some cases, it can even cause severe diseases such as cervical cancer in women, which is why HPV prevention is essential.
What Is HPV?
As the name suggests, HPV is a virus that spreads when two individuals come into skin-to-skin contact with each other. From 100+ types of HPV, approximately 40 are transmitted through sexual contact and affect different parts of the body such as the mouth, genitals, and the throat.
Other HPV infections are less severe and don’t affect the genitals. These can be commonly transmitted through the hands and feet, for example by going into a public shower without slippers.
Due to the ease through which this disease can be contracted, most sexually active individuals have it at some point in their life. This is true even when an individual has fewer sexual partners. However, since the virus goes away on its own generally, many people don’t even notice the occurrence.
Causes of HPV Infection
HPV can be contracted through any type of sexual contact such as oral, anal, or vaginal intercourse. This can happen even when the partner doesn’t show any visible signs or symptoms of HPV infection. But, the virus is transmitted mostly through skin-to-skin contact, which means that it can be contracted even without sexual intercourse.
In some cases, an HPV infected mother can give it to her child during delivery or breastfeeding. Sometimes people even carry the virus in their mouth – so even kissing can spread the virus to another person.
The virus, however, cannot be transmitted through toilet seats, pools, hot tubs, or when you share food with someone.
Symptoms of HPV
Most types of HPV infections don’t show visible signs and symptoms, which is why many people don’t even realize that they have HPV. This is also the reason HPV is spread easily through contact with sexual partners.
When the virus doesn’t get cured naturally, it can cause serious health problems including throat or genital warts or even cancer. It can cause small bumps around the genital area, throat, head, or neck. Contracting HPV doesn’t always lead to cancer, but women can develop cervical cancer within a few months of getting infected with the virus.
Risk Factors for HPV
There is no way of knowing beforehand whether or not HPV infection will cause a health problem or any type of health issue. However, individuals who have a weak immune system are at higher risks of suffering from health issues due to HPV.
HPV Prevention Tips
Since the virus is spread through skin-to-skin contact, the easiest way of HPV prevention is to limit the number of sexual partners and use condoms during sexual intercourse.
Another effective method of HPV prevention is to get vaccinated for the virus, as this will protect you from many types of HPV infection.
The only way to avoid giving HPV to someone else is to avoid contracting it in the first place. Hence, be careful during sexual intercourse, don’t go barefoot in public showers, and get vaccinated as early as possible.
Treatment for HPV
When HPV prevention fails, many individuals contract the virus. so you should definitely go for a Pap test if you observe unusual bumps around your throat, head, or genitals. In cases where the Pap test isn’t normal, these treatments can be used:
- Colposcopy involves closely examining the cervix to observe the development of precancerous cells.
- Cryotherapy involves eliminating precancerous cells from the cervix area.
- Loop Electrosurgical Excision Procedure involves eliminating precancerous cells through electrical current.
HPV can’t be cured but the various prevention methods discussed above can be used to avoid the virus infection.
Facts about HPV
- There is a high chance that you have already had HPV. As many people don’t exhibit symptoms, most get infected by the virus and then transmit it. Usually, the virus is cured on its own without any external intervention.
- Use of condoms can reduce the risk of contracting the virus, but it doesn’t eliminate it totally. The virus can live in or around the pubic hair or scrotum, which can be contracted even with the use of condoms.
- The HPV virus can stay inactive or dormant for years before finally showing symptoms or leading to cancerous growth.
- Since smoking is known to reduce the efficacy of the immune system, it increases the risk of HPV.
- HPV prevention is possible through vaccination but it can’t cure people who already have it. This makes it important to get a Pap test even when you have been vaccinated.
Who Should Get Vaccinated For HPV?
Individuals who are between the ages of 9 and 45 years can receive vaccination for HPV to prevent the development of cancerous cells or genital warts. However, it is preferable that children receive the vaccination when they are 11 or 12 years old. Parents and school authorities can encourage students to get vaccinated early so that they can stay protected against the HPV virus in later years.
HPV is a very common disease that can be easily contracted by individuals. Hence, getting vaccinated and being careful during sexual intercourse is essential for HPV prevention. This can be taught to young children in schools during sex education sessions. It will help educate them about the impact of the virus on the body.