What is Human Papillomavirus (HPV)?

HPV or the Human Papillomavirus is a virus group. There are various strains of HPV that can cause you to develop warts on your throat, mouth, hands and feet. There are around 40 strains that can develop infections within your genitals like your anus, scrotum, butt, vagina, penis and the vulva.

Genital HPV is a common STI or STD that is all over the globe. The WHO has estimated that more than 290 million women had HPV in 2013. The HPV infection is the cause for more than 500,000 cases of cervical cancer every year, that is over 85% of those that happen in developing countries.

HPV can be seen as being high risk or low risk. The low risk types are able to cause you to develop genital warts. The high-risk strains are the ones that can cause you to develop cancer in your penis, anus, the vulva, and vagina. Yet, strains of HPV which cause the development of genital warts are not the same ones that can cause you to develop cancer. Although, if you have genital warts, then you could have already been exposed to strains of HPV that turn into cancer.

HPV is able to be spread by sexual contact during anal or vaginal sex with a person who has been exposed to HPV. HPV can spread between sexual partners without there being a penis. It can be spread between women during skin to skin contact. Latex barriers or condoms don’t completely stop the transmission of HPV. Many people who have been diagnosed with HPV didn’t know that they had it because there weren’t any symptoms, but they were able to pass it on to someone else.

Even though many people will be exposed to HPV and become infected at some point. Although, 9 out of 10, the body will destroy the HPV naturally after 2 years. Because HIV can weaken the immune system, those who have HIV are more likely to get HPV. A study recently shown that HPV happens in 3 out of 4 women who have HIV. Women who have HIV and HPV are more likely to have:

  • High Risk HPV that develops into cancer.
  • High Risk HPV that develops into cervical or anal cancer.
  • Several strains of HPV at once.
  • HPV that does not respond well to treatment. Multiple therapies are needed using various methods.
  • Once HPV is cleared, it comes back after successful treatment.
  • Hard time naturally killing the infection.

If you have sex, it is vital that you get checked by your doctor for any signs of HPV like anal cancer, cervical cancer, or genital warts.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Human Papillomavirus (HPV)?

One of the most detrimental aspects of this virus is that it typically exhibits very few, if any, symptoms that can let someone know if they are infected with HPV. The only true recognizable sign of HPV is genital warts, and that only occurs with genital wart producing types of HPV. The warts are usually tiny, bump-like structures that produce no abstract interference. Most of the time, they will go away on their own and without medication.

Keep in mind that the types of HPV that produce genital warts do not have the ability to develop into cervical cancer. Likewise, the types of HPV that cause cervical cancer do not typically cause genital warts to appear. It is important to remember that there are several different types of HPV, and although some types may produce very minor symptoms, most cases and types are asymptomatic.

Complications

The most serious risk from HPV is cancer. Although not all strains of HPV cause cancer, the high-risk strains can cause cancers of the:

  • Cervix
  • Anus
  • Mouth
  • Penis
  • Vulva

Partners and Re-infection

If you are diagnosed with HPV, there is a high likelihood that your partner has been exposed. However, this should not be assumed and condom use should become standard in your sexual activities. Like other viruses, it is possible to carry one strain of HPV and be infected with another, so you are still at risk of further infections.

Recurrence

As HPV itself has no obvious symptoms and cannot in fact be cured (though recent studies show that those with vary healthy immune systems might eventually be rid of HPV), you are never free from the disease, and as such recurrence is a misnomer. For those with strains of HPV that cause genital warts, recurrence of warts is very common: 20-50% of those infected will see a recurrence of the warts.

How is Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Treated?

There is no treatment for HPV. If symptoms, such as genital warts, flare up, those can be treated, but the root cause of them has no treatment and you will probably be a carrier for life.

Sexual Activity

It is important to notify your partner of your condition and use protection.

Recovery Time

HPV cannot be treated or cured. Recent studies show that some very healthy people may be able to beat the disease. However, there is no definite timeline for that process. For the remainder of patients, they will probably be carriers of HPV for life.

How is Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Prevented?

Vaccines

As of this moment there are 3 types of vaccines for HPV: Cervarix, Silgard (Gardasil) and Gardasil 9. These vaccines have been approved by the FDA, EMA (European Medicines Agency) and Health Canada. There are medical projects that are working to provide these vaccines to women and girls who are living in low income countries. Gardasil has been approved for people between 9 years of age to 26 years of age while Cervarix has been approved for females between the ages of 10 years and 25 years old.

These particular vaccines are able to protect against HPV strains that cause most cervical cancers as well as genital warts. There have been recent studies that show that vaccines like these can help to protect against anal cancer, vaginal cancers and vulvar cancer in women. However, these HPV vaccines will not protect against less common strains, so it is best to have regular exams to look for cancer signs.

It is recommended that these vaccines be administered before first sexual contact. This will help to develop an immune response before ever being exposed to HPV. People who have HPV, may actually benefit from the vaccines to protect them against other strains. It is recommended by the CDC that both sexes get the vaccine. It is often provided to children starting at 11 years of age, but it has been approved for use as young as the age of 9.

In the UK, Gardasil is provided to girls who are 12 and up. The NACI in Canada recommends that women from ages of 9 to 45 and men ages 9 to 26 get vaccinated with Gardasil. Ceravix is recommended for ages 9 to 45.

If you are pregnant, you should not get the vaccine. Yet, it is safe to get the vaccine while you are breastfeeding. You should talk to your doctor about these vaccines to see which one would be right for you. There may be some assistance programs that can help you to afford the HPV vaccine.

There are recent studies that have shown that HPV vaccines are great to prepare the body to produce strong immune responses and there are some countries that have reduced the number of doses that are needed. Children between the ages of 9 and 13 will often have stronger responses to the vaccine. The EMA recently approved vaccination with Cervarix in only 2 doses. The CDC recommends that people under 15 get only 2 doses, but people aged from 15 to 26 receive 3 doses of this vaccine.

In order to lower how many injections are needed, the development of newer HPV vaccines include adding the HPV vaccine to other vaccines such as mixing it with measles in a single shot.

When is the Human Papillomavirus Vaccine Administered

There are two types of human papillomavirus vaccines available, Cervarix and Gardasil. Although both vaccines are fairly similar, only Gardasil provides extra protection against HPV types 6 and 11.

Young adults between the ages of 11 and 12 years old are recommended to receive the HPV vaccination in a series of three doses. The second dose is typically given at least one month after the first, while the third is administered at least six months after the first. The HPV vaccine can still be given between the ages of 13 and 26 if not administered as a pre-teen.

Effectiveness of Human Papillomavirus Vaccine

According to the CDC, the human papillomavirus vaccine has been deemed to be effective in reducing the occurrences of both genital warts and cervical cancer related to the human papillomavirus. It is imperative to receive all three doses for proper protection.

Human Papillomavirus Vaccination Side Effects and Risks

The CDC has conducted testing of the HPV vaccination in thousands of individuals world-wide with no serious side effects resulting. Pain at the shot location, along with fever, headache and nausea are all considered common side effects.

Pregnant women should not receive the human papillomavirus vaccination. Those under the age of nine and over the age of 26 should not be vaccinated against HPV. Any allergies to the human papillomavirus vaccine should be disclosed to a physician before continuing with the standard immunization schedule.

A local physician should be consulted when determining the best course concerning the HPV vaccination. All information provided is for educational purposes only and should not substitute the advice of a physician.

Screenings should be done regularly!

Cervical screenings, pelvic and anal exams should be done regularly and are quite important. While they may not be able to prevent HPV issues, they can help to catch dysplasia and warts before they end up worse and cause bigger issues.

Even though women who have HIV have a higher risk for getting cervical cancer, 1 in 4 women who have HIV didn’t have a cervical screening done yearly as it is recommended. There are 2 screenings that are recommended within the first year when a woman is diagnosed with HIV. This is important for HIV positive women to get yearly screenings and follow up so that problems are caught before cancer happens. The follow up often involves seeing a gynecologist who will look at your cervical cells using a microscope. This helps them to find any abnormal cells that could cause cancer. The less painful, cheaper, and healthier option is to take care of prevention instead of treatment.

Condoms

Whenever a condom is used correctly, then it can help to reduce the risk of spreading HPV. Condoms will not completely protect someone from HPV.

Not Smoking

If you smoke, it is best that you try to quit as smoking has been shown to increase the risks of developing various types of cancer, which include anal and cervical cancer. You should talk to your doctor about quitting smoking as there are plenty of tools that can help you to quit, as well as there being plenty of support and information online.

It is about Self Care

If you have HIV, then HPV can be quite serious. Since there are hardly ever any symptom, getting a regular exam can help your doctor to find any problems and get them treated early enough to keep you in the best of health as possible.

Mark Riegel, MD
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Quick Snapshot

Can it be cured?

Yes. Viruses don't have cures, but symptoms can be controlled with proper treatment.

Type of Infection

Viral. The human papillomavirus is the cause of the infection.

How is it treated?

The virus itself has no treatment. However, various treatments exist for the genital warts it sometimes causes.

Recovery Time

As there is no treatment for the virus, it will most likely be carried for life, and thus there is no time line for recovery.

Can I have sex?

Yes. However, partners should be informed of your condition and condoms should always be used.

Can I get re-infected?

Yes. There are many strains of HPV and even if you carry one strain, you can still be infected with another.

Do I Have HPV?

Find out whether or not you have a HPV infection and what STD test is recommended using our anonymous symptom checker. Get you personalized recommendations now!

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