What is Human Papillomavirus (HPV)?
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the USA. HPV is usually harmless and goes away by itself, but some types can lead to cervical cancer or genital warts (mucous membrane growths).
Some HPV infections cause lesions on one’s tongue, tonsils, soft palate, or within one’s larynx and nose.
Signs and Symptoms of HPV
Unfortunately, there are no signs or symptoms of HPV until it’s already caused serious health problems. That’s why regular checkups are so important.
A Pap test can detect these abnormal cells in your cervix. A Pap test doesn’t directly test for HPV, but it can discover abnormal cell changes that are likely caused by HPV.
These problem areas can be monitored by a nurse or doctor and get treated before turning into something more serious.
However, if HPV becomes cancerous, there may be some symptoms like.
- Penile cancer: cancer of the penis might show symptoms like changes in color or thickness of the skin of your penis, or a painful sore might show up on your penis.
- Anal cancer: might cause anal bleeding, pain, itching, or discharge, or changes in bowel habits.
- Vulvar cancer: cancer of the vulva might show symptoms like changes in color/thickness of the skin of your vulva. There may be chronic pain, itching, or there may be a lump.
- Throat cancer: might cause a sore throat, ear pain that doesn’t go away, constant coughing, pain or trouble swallowing or breathing, weight loss, or a lump or mass in your neck.
What Causes of HPV?
HPV infections which cause warts appear on some parts of one’s body. For example, some types of HPV infection cause plantar warts on the feet, while others cause warts that mostly appear on the face or neck.
In women, genital warts appear mostly on the vulva but can also occur near the anus, on the cervix or in the vagina. In men, genital warts appear on the penis and scrotum or around the anus.
Genital warts rarely cause discomfort or pain, though they may itch. They may take weeks, months, or even years to appear after one has had sex (vaginal, anal, or oral) with a person who’s infected with an Human papillomavirus.
Plantar warts are hard, grainy growths that usually appear on the heels or balls of your feet. These warts might cause discomfort.
Flat warts are flat-topped, slightly raised lesions darker than your skin. They can appear anywhere, but children usually get them on the face and men tend to get them in the beard area. Women tend to get them on the legs.
Common warts appear as rough, raised bumps and usually occur on the hands, fingers or elbows. In most cases, common warts are simply unsightly, but they can also be painful or susceptible to injury or bleeding.
Different types of HPV infection cause warts on different parts of one’s body. For example, some types of Human papillomavirus infection cause plantar warts on the feet, while others cause warts that mostly appear on the face or neck.
What’s the difference between genital warts and HPV?
Genital warts are harmless and don’t lead to cancer they are growths on the skin of your vulva, vagina, cervix, penis, scrotum, or anus. Most genital warts are caused by two types of HPV types 6 and 11.
Genital warts look like fleshy, soft bumps that sometimes resemble miniature cauliflower. They’re usually painless and can be treated and removed just like warts you might get on your hands or feet.
However, they may cause irritation and discomfort, and you can pass the Human papillomavirus that caused them to other people. If you think you have genital warts, it’s important to get check the doctor immediately.
How Does One Deal With Human papillomavirus?
It’s difficult to prevent HPV infections that cause common warts. If one has a common wart, he/she can prevent the spread of the infection and formation of new warts by not picking at a wart and not biting his/her nails.
To reduce the risk of contracting HPV infections that cause plantar warts, one should wear shoes or sandals in public pools and locker rooms.
One can reduce his/her risk of developing genital warts and other HPV-related genital lesions by being in a mutually monogamous sexual relationship and reducing your number of sex partners or using a latex condom, which can reduce your risk of HPV transmission
However, Human papillomavirus can be prevented in 3 brands of HPV vaccine Gardasil, Gardasil 9, and Cervarix. All of these vaccines protect against HPV types 16 and 18 which cause cervical cancer.
Gardasil protects one from types 6 and 11 which cause genital warts. Gardasil 9 protects against another 5 types of HPV (types 31, 33, 45, 52, and 58) that can also lead to cancer of the cervix, anus, vulva, or vagina.
The vaccines are given in a series of shots. For people ages 15-26, in 3 separate shots. It takes about 6 months to get all 3 shots. The second shot is given 2 months after the first, and the third shot is given 4 months after the second shot. And for people ages 9-14, in 2 separate shots. The second shot is given 6 months after the first shot.
How Safe Is The HPV Vaccine And Does It Have Any Side Effects?
Research shows that the vaccine is safe. The most common side effect is temporary pain and redness where you get the shot.The vaccine works best if one get it long before having sex.
If one is already infected with the virus, getting an HPV vaccine can’t treat it. It can, however, protect him/her from getting other types of HPV.
The HPV vaccine doesn’t protect against all types of HPV that can cause cancer. So it’s important to get Pap/HPV tests to find any cell changes that might lead to cervical cancer.
Where can One get the HPV vaccines?
One can get the vaccines from Planned Parenthood health centers and other clinics, health departments, and private nurses and doctors.
How much does the HPV vaccine cost?
Each dose of the vaccine can cost up to about $240. Luckily, many health insurance companies cover the HPV vaccines. There are also programs that help some people without insurance get a vaccine for low or no cost.
The vaccine is not usually given to people older than 26. But its wise to-regardless of your age, talk with your doctor or nurse or the staff at your local Planned Parenthood health center to find out if the HPV vaccine is a good idea for you.
What are Risk factors for Human papillomavirus infection?
- Multiple Sex partners: The more sexual partners one has, the more likely one contracts a genital HPV infection. Having sex with a partner who has had multiple sex partners also increases one’s risk.
- Personal contact: Touching someone’s warts or not wearing protection before contacting surfaces that have been exposed to HPV — such as public showers or swimming pools — might increase your risk of HPV infection.
- Weakened immune systems: People who have weakened immune systems are at greater risk of HPV infections. Immune systems can be weakened by HIV/AIDS or by immune system-suppressing drugs used after organ transplants.
- Damaged skin: Areas of skin that have been punctured or opened are more prone to develop common warts.
- Age: Common warts occur mostly in children. Genital warts occur most often in adolescents and young adults.
The good news is most people recover from HPV infections with no health problems at all. But if one engages in a lot of sexual activities he/she is likely to develop long-term HPV infections, precancerous cell changes, or cancer.
Also having another disease that makes it difficult for one to fight infections makes it more likely HPV will cause cervical cancer. Smoking cigarettes also make HPV more likely to cause cervical cancer.
There’s no cure for HPV, infections are temporary and not serious, so don’t spend a ton of energy worrying about whether you have HPV. Just make sure you’re not skipping your regular checkups, including Pap and/or HPV tests.
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- STD Facts (2017) - Human papillomavirus (HPV) - CDC. cdc.gov/std/hpv/stdfact-hpv.htm
- What is human papillomavirus (HPV)? (2017). medicalnewstoday.com/articles/246670.php
- Mayo Clinic Staff 2018) HPV infection - Symptoms and causes. mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hpv-infection/symptoms-causes/syc-20351596.
- Human papillomavirus (HPV) questions and answers. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. cdc.gov/hpv/parents/questions-answers.html. Accessed Feb. 25, 2019.
- Human papillomavirus (HPV) and cervical cancer. World Health Organization. who.int/en/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/human-papillomavirus-(HPV)-and-cervical-cancer. Accessed Feb. 20, 2019.
- Frequently asked questions. Gynecological problems FAQ 187. Abnormal cervical cancer screening test results. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. acog.org/Patients/FAQs/Abnormal-Cervical-Cancer-Screening-Test-Results. Accessed March 4, 2019.