Human papillomavirus (HPV) is an incredibly common virus with over 100 different strains. Over 40 of these types affect the genitals and are transmitted by sexual intercourse, making genital HPV the most common STI (sexually transmitted infection). In fact, because anyone who has sex can contract genital HPV, over 50% of all males and 75% of all females have HPV at some point in their lives. HPV is not the same thing as herpes.
What are the Symptoms?
Most types of HPV are actually symptomless and have no physical harmful effects whatsoever. Because of this, most people go through their lives suffering from HPV without even knowing it. However, in some cases it can cause unpleasant and uncomfortable genital warts and, in more serious cases, lead to much worse conditions. It can cause cervical cancer in females and, less commonly other types of life-threatening cancer, such as genital cancer or oropharyngeal cancer (cancer which targets the back of the throat).
How is it Contracted?
HPV is most commonly passed on during sexual intercourse. This can be vaginal, anal, oral and even through mere contact of genitals. The infection can remain present and dormant in a person’s body for years after they have exhibited any symptoms, and then still be passed on to a sexual partner.
How is it Treated?
The best form of treatment is always prevention. There are several vaccines for HPV, which can protect against 90% of strains that cause genital warts and 60% of those that lead to cervical cancer. Similarly, practicing good sexual hygiene is always important. Never have unprotected sex and always use a condom.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for HPV itself. Since most cases of HPV are symptomless and do not have any adverse effects on the sufferer, this is not generally a problem. However, the more serious problems caused by HPV, such as the abnormal cell changes on the cervix, can be treated. These are mostly addressed using colposcopy or cryotherapy. For more information on this topic, visit Planned Parenthood.
For men and women under 25, it is not common to be tested for HPV. However, women over the age of 25, who are more at risk of contracting cervical cancer, are recommended to go for cervical screening, which may also include HPV testing. This test is recommended to be undertaken at the same time as a Pap test (which is taken to look for abnormal cells on the cervix) and at intervals of five years.
The earlier the cancer is detected, the higher the chances of being able to overcome it safely and successfully. It is, thus, always recommended for women to go for cervical screening and indeed there is an NHS programme to make this process easier. As with most health conditions of this ilk, it is always better to be safe than sorry.
To see a GP in the City of London call Broadgate GP on 020 7638 4330 – Same day appointments available.