The most widespread Sexually Transmitted Infection in the US is Human Papillomavirus (HPV). HPV infection is a viral infection that causes warts on various parts of the body. This virus is transmitted through skin to skin to contact. There are more than 100 varieties of Human Papillomavirus and 40 of which are passed through sexual contact. About 14 million people are infected every year in the United States. For most people, the infection may go away on its own. In some cases, this virus seems to be a risk factor for certain types of cancers. The best way to prevent this viral is to get vaccinated at a young age.
HPV is a common sexually transmitted infection. This viral infection might go away on its own. Many people do not have any kind of symptoms. But, some types of human papillomavirus can lead to certain types of cancer or genital warts. This infection is passed by genital contact or by skin-to-skin contact. Almost 80% of sexually active people are infected by Human Papillomavirus. Most people may not know they are infected by this virus, as this infection has no symptoms.
There are more than 100 types of Human Papillomavirus. And 30 of it can affect the genitals including the vulva, vagina, cervix, scrotum, rectum, anus and, penis. And 14 of those are considered to be high risk and leads to cervical cancer. In the US around 19,400 females and 12,100 males develop cancer that stems from HPV infection. Vaccines are one effective measure that can help protect you from getting certain types of Human Papillomavirus.
Human Papillomavirus is transmitted primarily by skin-to-skin contact, and the virus can also enter the body through a cut, abrasion, scrape, or small tear in the skin. Most people get genital HPV infection through sexual contact which includes vaginal, anal, and oral sex. Transmission occurs even when people do not have symptoms. In rare cases, the virus is passed on to the baby by his or her infected mother. The child may develop HPV-related warts inside their throat or airways called recurrent respiratory papillomatosis and lesions inside the mouth.
Symptoms may occur years after the initial HPV infection. The most common symptom is warts (low-risk type) on the genital area and the abnormal changes in the cells that can sometimes turn into cancer (high-risk type). The strain of Human Papillomavirus that causes HPV warts is different from the strain that causes cancer. So, having HPV warts doesn’t mean that you’ll develop cancer. Regular screening will help diagnose HPV-related health problems earlier. Cancer caused by Human Papillomavirus does not show any symptoms until the cancer is in the last stage.
HPV in men
Diagnosing HPV infection in men is difficult as most men do not have symptoms, but some may develop genital warts on the penis, scrotum, anus, or groin. This infection does not place a man at a higher risk for health problems. But, men who had anal sex or with a weaker immune system are prone to HPV-related cancers (penile, anal, and throat cancer). Men who have sex with men can get this viral infection.
HPV in women
Genital warts are contagious and can be transmitted through skin-to-skin contact or by sexual contact. Women with HPV warts may have itching, burning, or tenderness in and around the location of warts. Women may have genital warts in the following area:
- On the vulva
- In or around the anus
- In or around the vagina
- On the groin
- On the cervix
Some strains of Human Papillomavirus may cause cervical, vagina, anus, or throat cancers. Regular screenings will help to detect the changes associated with cervical cancer. Apart from this test, DNA tests can detect strains of Human Papillomavirus associated with genital cancers.
The following are ways to diagnose the infection:
- Pap test: A sample of cells from the cervix or vagina is taken and examined under the microscope to look for any abnormal cells or changes in cells. The abnormal cells might lead to cancer.
- HPV DNA test: This test looks directly for the genetic material of the HPV and detects the type of HPV connected to cervical cancer within a sample of cells. The sample used for this test is collected at the time of a Pap test.
- Vinegar solution test (acetic acid): The vinegar solution is applied to the genital area. They will turn white if lesions are present in that area.
Presently, there is no FDA-approved test for diagnosing HPV in men. For men, doctors may perform an anal pap test that has an increased risk of developing anal cancer.
Who is at risk?
The risk of contracting this viral infection is higher when people have:
- Unprotected vaginal, anal, or oral sex.
- Weakened immune system.
- Having a sexual partner who has an HPV infection.
- Having more sexual partners or having sex with someone who has had more sexual partners.
- Contact with HPV warts.
The chances of getting cancer are higher when people with HPV:
- Has the habit of smoking.
- Has given birth to many children.
- Delivered their first baby at a very young age.
- Has other sexually transmitted infections like gonorrhea, chlamydia, and herpes.
Is HPV curable?
There is no cure for HPV, but the body can produce antibodies against the virus and clear the infection on its own within 2 years. About 70-90% of the cases of infection are cleared by the immune system within the body. Vaccines can prevent high-risk HPV types and the types that cause genital warts. When the infection doesn’t go away by itself, it may cause problems. Which include genital warts linked to low-risk HPV types and precancerous changes linked to certain high-risk types of HPV.
When treatment is required, visible warts and abnormal cells from the cervix are removed. But only a few women with HPV infection develop cellular changes that need to be treated. Warts can go away without treatment. When it doesn’t, the doctor may recommend a medicated cream that needs to be applied directly on warts. Treatments may include:
- Trichloroacetic acid: Helps to burns off warts on palms, soles of feet, and genitals. (may cause irritation)
- Salicylic acid: When this ingredient is directly applied to the wart, they destroy the wart one layer at a time.
- Podofilox: This gel is directly applied to genital warts to destroy their tissue. (people may experience burning and itching from it)
- Imiquimod: This prescription cream helps the immune system to get rid of the infection. (may cause swelling or redness around area people apply to)
Usually, medications are recommended. When it doesn’t work doctors may proceed with the following treatment.
- Cryosurgery: Using liquid nitrogen to freeze warts.
- Loop electrosurgical excision procedure (LEEP): A special wire loop is used to remove the abnormal cells.
- Laser therapy: An intense light is used to destroy warts & abnormal cells.
- Electrocautery: Electric current is used to burn warts off.
Currently, there are three types of vaccines available for HPV infection. And they have been licensed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
- Gardasil 9
HPV vaccines are effective and they almost prevent 90% of Human Papillomavirus attributable cancers. The CDC recommends vaccination for all preteens including boys and girls (at age 11-12) so they can be protected from Human Papillomavirus infections that can cause cancer later in life. The first dose is recommended at age of 11-12 years old. And two doses are recommended only if the vaccination has started at age 9 and through age 14. Teens and young adults who start the series later, at ages 15 through 26 years, require three doses of the HPV vaccine.
However, the HPV vaccine is not recommended to the following people:
- People above the age of 26 years.
- A pregnant woman.
- People who are allergic to yeast – Gardasil and Gardasil 9
HPV vaccine side effects
The vaccines are safe, people may experience mild side effects which include:
- Pain, swelling, or redness in the arm where the shot was given.
- Dizziness or fainting after the injection.
- Fatigue or weakness.
- Muscle or joint pain.
- Have protected sex.
- Getting vaccinated.
- Limiting the number of sexual partners.
- Must avoid sex while genital warts are present.
- Regular Pap tests are recommended to every woman to look for abnormal changes in the cervix.
Facts about Human Papillomavirus
- About 80% of sexually active people are infected by Human Papillomavirus at some point in their life.
- This viral infection is higher among sexually active young women.
- In the US, 42 million people were infected with disease-associated HPV in 2018.
- About 25,400 women and 19,900 men have developed HPV-associated cancers in the US from 2013 to 2017.
- According to CDC, more than 90% of anal and cervical cancers, 70% of vaginal and vulvar cancers, and 60% of penile cancers are linked to HPV.
- About 70% of oropharyngeal cancers may be linked to HPV. This can also be caused by a combination of tobacco, alcohol, and Human Papillomavirus.
- About 14 million people are infected every year in the United States.
- The first HPV vaccine was recommended in 2006. And 64% reduction in vaccine-covered HPV strains has been observed in teenage girls in the US.