HPV (Human papillomavirus) is a group over 100 types of viruses that are transmitted from one person to another through skin-to-skin contact. While there are around 150 varieties of HPV, 40 types are common among people that are known to affect the genitals, throat or mouth, and are transmitted through sexual contact. HPV is one of the most common infections that affects both men and women who are sexually active at some point their lives.
What causes HPV?
HPV is commonly caused by skin-to-skin contact, especially during vaginal sex or oral sex. This means any person who is sexually active can become HPV positive. But sexual intercourse isn’t the only factor. In some cases, a pregnant mother can pass on the infection to her baby during birth.
Symptoms of HPV
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the majority of HPV infections are asymptotic, and disappear on their own after a while. This means an infected person can transmit the virus to another person unknowingly. However, sometimes the virus doesn’t go away on its own and leads to health complications such as warts in the throat, head, neck or genital areas. In severe cases, it may cause cervical cancer in women. Cancers caused by HPV are usually asymptotic and the woman may not realize she has cervical cancer until the it has progressed into advanced stages. Regular screenings and pap smears can help diagnose HPV-related health problems in early stages.
Diagnosis of HPV
If you have warts, your doctor will analyze the condition with a visual examination. However, more tests may still be required to further evaluate the situation and suggest proper treatment. The tests done for evaluating HPV and its related cancers are a pap smear and DNA test. A Pap smear tests the presence of precancerous cells in the cervix. The DNA test evaluates high-risk types of HPV and is recommended for women age 30 and older, in combination with a pap smear. A DNA test for HPV can also be used alone without the need for simultaneous pap smear testing, starting at age 25. Regular screening helps women identify abnormalities in cells beforehand.
If you are diagnosed with one of the 15 strains of HPV that can cause cancer, your healthcare provider will ask you to have pap smears more frequently to monitor your cervical changes. Your doctor may also recommend a follow-up diagnosis with a colonoscopy. In this procedure, the doctor uses an instrument called colonoscope to inspect the vagina and cervix for any abnormality. The HPV test is only available for diagnosing its presence in women.
How is HPV treated?
Since HPV infection often goes away on its own, there is no particular treatment. However, your doctor will suggest regular examinations to monitor the changes in your cells every 6 months to a year. For specific HPV related issues like warts or cancer, treatment is unique to the illness.
How to prevent HPV?
The best way to prevent HPV is limiting the number of sexual partners, and using condoms. In addition to that, both men and women should be vaccinated to eliminate the risk of contracting the infection.
- The 40 types of HPV common among people, and are known to affect the genitals, throat or mouth.
- HPV is commonly caused by skin-to-skin contact, especially during vaginal or oral sex.
- Tests done for evaluating HPV and its related cancers consist of a pap smear and DNA test.