Alan McStravick for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
Unless you have been living in a cave for the past decade, chances are you have heard of human papillomavirus (HPV) in the news or addressed on your favorite medical drama. Even with all of this attention, many are still in the dark as to exactly what HPV is, how it is spread, its potential effects to one´s health, and how to successfully prevent it.
To date, there are more than 70 different types of HPV. Of these, certain types can increase your chances of diagnosis of cancer. This is because they have been found to cause precancerous changes in the cervix and anus. These HPV strains are considered high-risk.
The most common HPV infection occurs on or around the genitals. Most who have HPV show no symptoms and are not even aware they are infected. Consultation with a medical professional is usually the most fail-safe method for detection of infection. In fact, in women, HPV can easily spread to the inside walls of the vagina and cervix, making them nearly impossible to detect without specific special medical procedures.
Genital warts, caused by HPV, are soft growths on the skin and mucus membranes of the genitals. They are found on the penis, vulva, in the urethra, vagina, cervix, or around the anus. Infection from HPV is transmitted during sexual intercourse.
Once contracted, an individual may not see warts for 6 weeks to as long as 6 months after infection. Some individuals may not even notice them for years. And, due to individual immunities and tolerances, not everyone who comes into contact with HPV will develop genital warts as a result.
There are several factors that increase your likelihood of infection from HPV. Interestingly enough, it has been found that regular use of alcohol and tobacco are one of these factors. Another has to do with having become sexually active at a young age. Women who are pregnant are also at an increased risk of contraction. HPV can be passed to an infant that is born vaginally if the mother is infected at the time of birth. Also, individuals who already suffer from a viral infection, like herpes, or who have a weakened immune system due to illness or medication are at an increased risk for infection.
If you have itching in the genital area, see small flesh-colored bumps in or around your genitals, or have an increase in dampness of the genitals, it is important to consult your healthcare provider to undergo a physical exam. For women, this would entail a pelvic examination that requires the use of colposcopy, or magnification, to spot warts not seen with the naked eye. Also, the use of a watered down vinegar (acetic acid) helps the physician to better see any warts.
If it is determined that you carry HPV, the use of an HPV DNA test will help determine if the HPV you have contracted is considered high-risk. These high-risk HPV´s are known to cause cervical cancer.
It is important to note that if you notice you have genital warts that you not use over-the-counter medications that are intended for treatment of other types of warts. HPV must be treated by a physician. That treatment can range from in-office skin treatments to a prescription medication regimen to possible surgeries to excise the warts from your genitals.
Once a diagnosis of HPV has been made by your physician, it is important that all of your sexual partners also undergo examination for the virus. Even if they have no symptoms, treatment is the only way to successfully prevent future complication and spread of HPV to others.
A vaccine for young women aged 9-26 has been shown to be effective in preventing certain high-risk HPV´s that could lead to cervical cancer. This vaccine regimen is administered in a series of three shots. Even if a female has already been diagnosed with genital warts prior to receiving the vaccine, undergoing the treatment is still recommended.
Studies have shown that many sexually active young women have been infected with HPV. In many cases, HPV can go away on its own. It seems infection from HPV has much more deleterious effects on women than on men. Men, very often, never develop symptoms or suffer problems due to infection. They can, however, actively transmit HPV to current and even future sexual partners.
This is not to say men are immune to dangerous health outcomes from HPV. Certain high-risk strains have been found to cause both penile and anal cancers.
The types of HPV that can cause genital warts are not the same as the types that can cause penile or anal cancer.
The only certain way to protect oneself from infection is to avoid sexual contact. As this is an often unlikely possibility, it is recommended to maintain a monogamous sexual relationship with a partner you know is not a carrier of HPV.
Condoms are effective at the prevention of STD´s, but are not foolproof when used for protection from HPV. This is because the virus can be found on nearby skin, passing from one individual to another through skin to skin contact where the condom is not protecting. HPV can be transmitted from an infected individual to one who is not even when there are no visible warts or symptoms.
The most important thing to remember regarding HPV is that only you can take an active role in protecting yourself. Have yourself examined and make certain that your partner or partners are also free of the virus. Being bashful with your partner or ignorant of HPV´s causes could lead to unfortunate and even dire consequences if left untreated.