What is Human Papilloma Virus (HPV)?
The human papillomavirus (HPV)is a very common sexually transmitted disease (STD). Currently, about 20 million people are infected with HPV. What’s more, it is estimated that as much as 80% of the population will become infected with at least one strain of HPV at some point in their lifetime.
How is HPV Transmitted?
Although there are over 100 different strains of the virus, about 30 of them are considered to be sexually transmitted diseases, and are spread through sexual contact – most commonly vaginal, anal, or oral sex. Typically, the first symptom that an individual infected with HPV will experience is genital warts.
Women and men are at equal at risk of becoming infected with HPV, although men have a slightly lower chance of their infection developing into genital warts. In addition, people in their early twenties tend to be at the highest risk of contracting the HPV virus.
What are the Symptoms of HPV?
Unfortunately, most people infected with HPV do not even know it, as most are asymptomatic (experience no symptoms). Those infected with what is known as “low risk” HPV will likely experience only one HPV symptom: genital warts. However, these can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months to develop.
In appearance, genital warts
resemble miniature cauliflower florets, and are usually flesh-colored, soft and moist. In women, HPV warts can appear on the vulva, cervix and in or around the vagina. In men, HPV genital warts may develop on the scrotum or penis. Both sexes may also develop genital warts symptoms in or around the anus and occasionally on the thighs, buttocks or throat.
What are the Risks of HPV Genital Warts?
Besides genital warts – which can recur – generally, those infected with HPV, especially low-risk HPV, will experience no complications as a result of the infection. However, those considered to have "high-risk" HPV are at a significantly increased risk of developing cervical cancer as well as certain other types of cancer, including vulvar cancer, anal cancer, or cancer of the penis. In fact, high-risk strains of HPV are responsible for almost all cases of cervical cancer.
Pregnant women who have HPV genital warts may notice that warts grow more quickly and to a larger size during their pregnancy. They should be aware that having an outbreak during pregnancy, and especially during delivery, could cause potentially serious problems. Although this is considered rare, it is possible to pass the warts on to a baby during childbirth, which can be life threatening to the child.
Can HPV be Prevented?
As with most sexually transmitted diseases, practicing abstinence, safer sex, or being in a mutually monogamous relationship with someone who has tested free of the virus are the best ways to avoid contracting HPV and HPV genital warts. However, condoms are not effective if you come into direct contact with someone with genital warts. If you or your partner is having an outbreak of HPV genital warts, it is best to avoid all sexual contact until the warts have completely disappeared.
How is HPV Treated?
There is no cure for HPV, however there are treatments that can be effective in healing HPV genital warts. The problem, however, is that many people who are infected with HPV do not realize it, and therefore do not seek treatment.