Human Papillomavirus is a group of around 150 viruses. It is the most common sexually transmitted infection, newly infecting around 14 million people each year. HPV can be harmless, but at the same time, some viruses can cause genital warts or cancer.
In most cases, the immune system kills the virus but it can present differently in people or not at all. It’s possible to be infected but to not exhibit any symptoms, and symptoms may develop years after the initial infection. In fact, most people do not even know that they are infected. HPV is spread through skin on skin contact, most commonly vaginal or anal sex. It is also possible that a pregnant woman with HPV can infect her child during childbirth, which may cause Recurrent Respiratory Papillomatosis, a severe condition in which the virus causes warts to grow inside the throat.
Usually, HPV is killed, but if it persists it may cause warts, which can be flat, large or raise and can be diagnosed by a healthcare provider. It can also cause a variety of cancers including cancers of the cervix, vagina, vulva, penis, anus, throat and tongue. However, because the virus that causes cancer is different to the virus that causes warts, the cancers may take years to develop. There is no way to know how HPV will affect a person, although those with weak immune systems may find it difficult to fight off the virus.
So, how do you avoid HPV?
There is a vaccine, which is safe and it works. It protects against diseases caused by HPV. Clinical trials done to test the vaccine show that it is close to 100% in protecting against warts and cancers, and further studies indicate a decline in the prevalence of genital warts and cervical cancer. The vaccine provides a long-term protection and it is examined often to ensure its reliability. Although the vaccine does have a few side effects, they’re usually mild. For it to be most effective, it is important to administer the vaccine before being exposed to HPV, which is why it is recommended that 11 year olds get vaccinated.
Young women should also be routinely screened for cervical cancer to avoid an HPV infection. And, if you are sexually active be sure to use a condom, but remember that HPV can infect areas not covered by condoms.
Nearly all people will be infected with some kind of HPV in their lifetime, and it will most likely go away. There is no reason to be ashamed of it, so be sure to get vaccinated and tested.