Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a group of virus that grows naturally on your skin; about 200 types have been identified. Although there are hundreds, the majority of them are not pathogenic, do not cause health problems. There are about 30 types of HPV, however, which may cause infection on your skin and genital area. Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection can occur in different parts of your body. Those viruses can cause not only sexually transmitted diseases, but also oral cancer (cancer in the mouth or throat) and cancer in your anogenital region (cancer of the cervix, vagina cancer or cancer of the vulva, cancer of the penis or anal)
It is reported that about than 50% of the sexually active population in the developed countries is considered carrier of HPV. In the US alone, it is estimated that about 20 million people have HPV infection; most of them have no obvious symptoms. Having no apparent lesions, those individuals are infected with the virus and can transmit it to their uninfected partners. It is also revealed that the majority of sexually active people have had at least one papillomavirus infection with high potential carcinogen in their lives, especially during the early years of sexual life.
HPV Infection Causes and Risk Factors
HPV are sub-microscopic infectious agents that grow harmlessly on your skin. Infection occurs when the virus enters your body through a cut or a tear in the epidermis (the outer layer of your skin). If your body natural defense is trong, no infection occurs. That is, you run a greater risk of contracting HPV infection when you have a weak immune system.
HPV infection is transmitted by skin-to-skin contact, vaginal sex, anal sex, oral sex, and self-inoculation (itching of genital warts). You can get HPV If your skin was in contact with contaminated surfaces or objects (under wear for instance). Although it is rare, the virus can be transmitted by swimming in local pools. Transmission of HPV can also occur during delivery, mother-to -child transmission.
Although it is controversial, it is also believed that certain birth control pills tend to promote the development of VPH infection in people with weakened immune system.
HPV Infection Symptoms
Most people infected with HPV have no signs or symptoms and can spread the virus unawarely. When symptoms occur, they can be physical and psychological.
Men: occurrence of genital warts in the groin, thigh, urethra, penis, scrotum, and rectal area
Women: occurrence of genital warts on the groin, thigh, labia minora, vaginal opening, vaginal canal, and anorectal area.
Men And Women: Warts or lesions on your tongue, tonsils, soft palate, and larynx and in your nose
Psychological – If you have HPV infection that develops warts or lesions in your genital areas, you can feel these psychological symptoms:
- Feel depressed, ashamed, or guilty
- Anxious and fear about cancer
- Lack of self-esteem
- Feel uncomfortable with your partner during sexual activities
- Having less desire for sexual activities
- Concern about your reproductive health
Note: refer to the table below for more signs and symptoms
How Is HPV Infection Diagnosed?
Your doctor can diagnose HPV infection by examining the warts or lessions. Changes in the cervix are detected through Pap test. If the test is not conclusive enough, your physician may suggest a direct exam of your external genitalia, using a hand lens (a magnifying glass) or a colposcope (colposcopy).
Cervical cytology, also called Pap smear or Pap test, is a medical procedure that allows your physician to collect cells from your cervix (assuming you are a woman) to study them under microscope. This painless test, done by a doctor or nurse, allows detection of abnormal cells that are either precancerous or cancerous. This will enable further investigation to identify women who are at risk of cancer of the cervix. Women who are at risk are mostly those who have genital infection with HPV types 16 or/and 18, two types of HPV that are responsible for about 70 percent of cervical cancers. If you have two consecutive positive Pap test, your doctor can recommend a colposcopy.
DNA test – during this procedure, a medical specialist takes cell samples from your cervix to make a cytological study. This method helps your doctor to detect all 13 high-risk HPV types: types 16 and 18. If the result indicates presence of HPV types 16 and 18, you are at greater risk of cancer. In this case, your doctor may recommend a HPV DNA test (a test done to detect cervical cancer in its early stage) to supplement your Pap test if you are 30 years or older.
Colposcopy – Is a medical method of examining your cervix and vagina through a colposcope. This medical procedure allows your health care provider to detect inflammatory lesions or presence of precancerous or cancerous cells. This exam is aimed at viewing your internal genitalia (cervix and vagina) using a microscope to identify abnormal cells.
A colposcopy is done when the Pap test shows abnormalities in your cervix. If lesions are identified during the examination, a biopsy will be performed to confirm the diagnosis. In case of precancerous lesion, a local treatment will be prescribed to you (diathermic loop excision, cryotherapy, laser, etc.) to prevent carcinogenic cellular formation.
Your doctor can also discuss with you for advice on choosing the best treatment. If, however, a less serious HPV infection is detected in the cervix or vagina, most doctors opt for an observation period without treatment, leaving the chance for your immune system to fight the infection.
HPV Infection Treatment
Currently, there is no cure for HPV infection. Depending on the severity of the infection, you can do the treatment by yourself. The best option is to boost your immune system to help your body can get rid of the infection. However, if you decide to take immune supplements, do not take mushroom-based immune supplements; they can increase the overgrowth of the viruses.
To reduce the overgrowth of the HPV, different substances (aloe vera, vitamin E oil mixed with oignos juice, etc.) may apply at home on the external lesions 2 to 3 times per day. Along with a healthy diet and cruciferous vegetables juice, those remedies can bring good results. In the case of resistance to treatment or in cases of recidivism, your doctor may recommend other forms of treatment such as cryotherapy, electrosurgery and laser to remove the lesions.
Cryotherapy – also called cryosurgery, is a therapeutic method used in surgery to destroy by extreme cold (ice, frozen bags, liquid nitrogen, etc.) abnormal tissues. Cryosurgery is practiced in dermatology to treat various skin disorders such as angiomas and wart. This method is less painful and leaves no or few scars.
Electrosurgery is the use of heat produced by the passage of high-frequency electric current in an electrosurgical device to carbonize pathological tissues such as lesions caused HPV infection. Depending on the type of instrument used, electrosurgery can be electrocoagulation or electrodissection.
- Electrocoagulation – also known as thermocoagulation, electrocoagulation is a surgical technique allowing coagulation of certain tissues and small vessels through the heat generated by applying an electric scalpel. This method, derived from the diathermy, is commonly used in hemostasis (interruption of blood flow) during surgery and to destroy small tumors such as skin warts.
- Electrodissection – done with an electric scalpel, electrodissection is used to cut tissue in a manner comparable to those achieved with a conventional scalpel. It is a technical dissection that causes no bleeding. In addition, it is quick and painless.
Laser surgery – the laser treatment is a therapeutic method in which your surgeon overheats and vaporizes abnormal cells by the application of laser light. This method allows the reconstruction of damaged tissues while reducing inflammation and pain.
Your doctor may also recommend you to use imiquimod (Aldara) and podofilox (Condylox), prescription medications applied as cream to destroy or remove genital wart tissue.
HPV Infection Prevention
Gardasil is the only Vaccine currently used against cervical/vaginal cancers and HPV infections of types 6, 11, 16 and 18. However, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend this vaccine for girls 11 or 12 years old, and women aged 13 to 26 if they have not already been vaccinated. Ongoing studies on a vaccine for boys are very promising, but it is not available for now.
The following tips can help you prevent not only HPV, but also most other types of STDs
- Learn about STIs and how to avoid them
- Practice safe sex – always use a latex condom
- Practice mutual monogamous sexual relationship (this requires participation of both partners)
- If you are already in polygamy, reduce your number of sex partners to one; yes, just one
- Take informed decisions about your sexual health – practice safe sex
- Talk to your doctor about gardasil vaccination
- If you are a woman, consult your physician regularly to undergo a Pap test.