HPV is more and more common nowadays, yet many people still don’t know that much about it. So, here’s more about what an HPV infection is and whether or not you should be worried.
What is HPV?
HPV stands for human papillomavirus. It’s the most common sexually transmitted infection. HPV is a viral infection that commonly causes skin or mucous membrane growths (warts). There are more than 100 varieties of human papillomavirus (HPV).
HPV is passed skin-to-skin through sexual intercourse or other forms of skin-to-skin contact of the genitals. While most HPV infections are benign, causing warts on areas of the body including the hands, feet, and genitals, there are certain strains that put a person at a higher risk of developing certain types of cancers. However, it is important to note that the strains of HPV that cause warts are different from the group of HPV strains that cause cancer.
Most HPV infections don’t lead to cancer. But some types of genital HPV can cause cancer of the lower part of the uterus that connects to the vagina (cervix). Other types of cancers, including cancers of the anus, penis, vagina, vulva and back of the throat (oropharyngeal), have also been linked to HPV infection.
What are the symptoms?
HPV can infect anyone who is sexually active. Infected individuals are often asymptomatic, meaning they display no symptoms of the virus. Although most HPV infections resolve themselves, sometimes, they can remain dormant and later infect a new or existing sexual partner. HPV can also be transmitted to an infant during birth. This can cause a genital or respiratory system infection to the child.
HPV could create warts. When warts do appear, they vary in appearance depending on which kind of HPV is involved:
- Genital warts: These appear as flat lesions, small cauliflower-like bumps or tiny stemlike protrusions. In women, genital warts appear mostly on the vulva but can also occur near the anus, on the cervix or in the vagina. In men, genital warts appear on the penis and scrotum or around the anus. Genital warts rarely cause discomfort or pain, though they may itch or feel tender.
- Common warts: Common warts appear as rough, raised bumps and usually occur on the hands and fingers. In most cases, common warts are simply unsightly, but they can also be painful or susceptible to injury or bleeding.
- Plantar warts: Plantar warts are hard, grainy growths that usually appear on the heels or balls of your feet. These warts might cause discomfort.
- Flat warts: Flat warts are flat-topped, slightly raised lesions. They can appear anywhere, but children usually get them on the face and men tend to get them in the beard area. Women tend to get them on the legs.
- Cervical cancer: Nearly all cervical cancers are caused by HPV infections, but cervical cancer may take 20 years or longer to develop after an HPV infection. The HPV infection and early cervical cancer typically don’t cause noticeable symptoms.
How to prevent getting or spreading it?
Getting vaccinated against HPV infection is your best protection from cervical cancer.
Early cervical cancer doesn’t cause symptoms, so it’s vital that women have regular screening tests to detect any precancerous changes in the cervix that might lead to cancer. This is done through a Pap test. In The Netherlands all women from the age of 30 will receive an invite from their doctor for a free Pap test. Women ages 30 to 65 are advised to continue having a Pap test every five years.
In order to prevent getting or spreading it, it is extremely important to always practice safe sex! Avoid sex when you see visible warts and ALWAYS use protection! By using protection you decrease the risk of getting infected with the HPV virus.
Do you recognize any of these symptoms or do you worry you might have HPV or any other STD then please contact your doctor as soon as possible. They can inform you on how and where to get tested and which treatment is right for you.
Sources: RIVM, Medical News Today, Mayo Clinic