Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the collective name for a group of about 200 related viruses. About 40 of these viruses can affect the genitals.
Genital HPV is highly contagious, spreading easily during intimate skin contact with an infected person. Because of this, it is the most common sexually transmitted disease (STD) in the world – 8 out of 10 people who are sexually active are likely to contract HPV in their lifetime.
Low-Risk and High-Risk HPVs
Some people who contract HPV show no symptoms at all. Sometimes, the infection goes away by itself after a couple of years without the person even knowing it. However, certain types of HPV can cause problems for the carrier.
Genital warts are caused by low-risk types of HPV. These warts are bumps or stem-like protrusions in or around the genital area. While genital warts do not usually cause further complications, they can be unsightly. Newborns who are infected while being born can also develop warts in the throat area which can cause breathing problems.
Doctors can diagnose warts through visual observation, and then proceed to remove them. Cryotherapy, which involves freezing off the warts, is the most popular method for this.
More serious issues may arise if you contract one of the 12 high-risk types of HPV, especially HPV16 and HPV18. These viruses can damage the carrier’s cells’ DNAs. This may cause the cells to start dividing and growing out of control, possibly leading to cancer. The most common type of cancer caused by HPV is cervical cancer.
Reducing Your Risk
There are several things you can do to reduce your risk of contracting HPV. One good way is by maintaining a mutually monogamous sexual relationship. Using a condom during intercourse can also help prevent infection in intimate areas.
However, since HPV is so common, you may want to get screened even if you think youbare safe.
Sexually active women are advised to undergo pap smears annually. This procedure can help to detect any HPV-related cellular changes within the cervix. If detected, these cells can be immediately removed before they develop into cancer.
Men do not generally undergo regular HPV screening, but men who have intercourse with other men may request anal pap smears for their peace of mind.
Several vaccines have recently been developed to protect against some of the most dangerous types of HPV, including those that cause cancer.
Since HPV is often contracted almost immediately after people become sexually active, many countries recommend that girls get vaccinated while they are still of schooling age. However, you still can get vaccinated even if you are older, or if you are a male and have concerns.
Even after getting vaccinated, it is still important to continue regular screenings. This is because the vaccines do not protect against all types of HPV.
Talk to your doctor for vaccination and screening options to keep yourself safe from the negative effects of HPV.