Human Papilloma Virus – Causes, Risk Factors, Symptoms and Diagnosis
- HPV is spread through skin to skin contact and through sexual contact.
- HPV may not show any symptom or people may develop warts on different parts of the body or in the genital region depending on the strain of HPV they got infected with.
- Sexually active people are at higher risk of acquiring and transmitting the infection / disease.
- There is no cure for HPV, symptoms will subside after sometime but the person may have to live the infection through his/her life if his/her immune system is not able to get rid of the infection.
- Vaccine for HPV is available that can be administered at young age or till the age of 26. However, vaccine is NOT available for all strains of HPV, considering the fact that HPV has over 100 strains.
- Always have sex with trusted partners or follow safe sex when having sex with unfamiliar/new partners.
- If you notice warts on your body, see a good gynaecologist and get diagnosed immediately. HPV is a leading cause for developing cancer.
- If you are the carrier of HPV, you need to have social responsibility and make sure that you don’t become a spreader of the infection.
HPV – Human Papilloma Virus is one of the most common and easily transmissible sexually transmitted infections. Just like many other viral infections, HPV infection may not show any symptom at all in some patients and in some others, symptoms may show up after the sero-conversion period. Typically, sexually active people are at higher risk of acquiring the disease.
Causes of Human Papilloma Virus Infection
- Unlike HIV that spreads through unprotected sex or sharing of needles, HPV can spread with just skin to skin touch with an infected person.
- Having unprotected sex with an infected person is the major cause of spreading of HPV.
- Babies may inherit the infection from their mother but the risk is low as their immune system can fight off the infection.
- If HPV is found in children, that may be a sign of child abuse.
Symptoms of Human Papilloma Virus Infection
As said, there may be no symptoms in seen in some people who are infected with HPV. While in others symptoms such as general warts, genital warts are seen. In very few cases, HPV can lead to cancer of the cervix. When seen from other side of the coin, HPV is attributed as the major factor for cervical cancer in women.
Warts are bumps on skin, group of bumps or stem like growths that can differ in size and shape from person to person. They may be flat or little swollen like and often seen in white, pink, reddish brown colours. They can cause itching and burning sensation.
As the name indicates, genital warts are seen in and around the genitals of men and women:
- Penis and Scrotum in men
- Vulva region
- Cervix (inside the vagina, this is the region that connects the uterus and the vagina)
- Groin area
These are other types of warts that appear in different areas of the body including hands, fingers, elbows, feet, face and neck.
Can Human Papilloma Virus lead to cancer?
Yes, though the percentage is small, HPV is found to be a leading cause for cervical cancer in women. The odds increase even higher when the person has Chlamydia, another STI. It is believed that the presence of HPV inside the body alters the cells and the cells that are altered just grow indefinitely forming tumors. Usually, people with good immune system will be able to fight off the “bad cells” but those with weak or compromised immune system develop precancerous or cancerous cells in the cervical and penis region.
Different types of cancer that can be caused by HPV include:
- Cervical Cancer
- Penile Cancer
- Cancer of the Vulva
- Cancer of the Vagina
- Cancer of Anus
- Oropharynx – formed at the base of the tongue and tonsils.
Who is at risk of getting infected with Human Papilloma Virus?
- If you are a sexually active individual who is having multiple sex partners.
- If you are have sex with a sexually active person who has multiple sex partners.
- If you don’t use condoms or dental dams and follow safe sex practices.
- If you have cuts/broken skin around your genitals or mouth.
- If you get into sexual contact or close contact with those who have warts on their body.
- If you have not had HPV vaccine.
What puts a person at higher risk of cancer when infected with HPV?
Our medical experts believe that the following people are at higher risk of developing cancer when they are infected with HPV:
- If you deliver a baby at young age or if you have given birth to many children.
- If you are infected with Chlamydia
- If you have a weak or compromised immune system (can be genetic or due to other disease such as AIDS).
How is Human Papilloma Virus Infection diagnosed?
When you present yourself to a good sexologist or a gynecologist, he/she can infer that you might have got infected with HPV by looking at the warts. To confirm their observation and to see if you have developed any precancerous or cancerous cells, you may have to undergo
- A pap smear test – where the cells of the cervix region are collected and tested.
- A DNA Test
- A Biopsy – a small sample of tissue is collected from the cervix region and seen under a microscope for the presence of cancer cells.
How can you prevent HPV?
- Get vaccinated. Some vaccines should be administered before the age of 12 and some vaccines can be taken even if you are below 26 years (and over 12).
- Limit the number of sexual partners.
- Have protected sex with new/unfamiliar people at all times.
- If you notice any kind of cuts, warts around the mouth of the other person or if you see any warts like stuff on the skin, avoid contact with the person immediately. (Let alone having your good time with him/her).
- If you are the carrier of HPV infection, taking care of warts (getting them treated), cleaning the area of warts, washing hands after touching warts, avoiding contact with others, avoiding swimming pools for certain time can help the spread of the infection.