What is the Human Papilloma Virus?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at least 50 percent of sexually active men and women will become infected with genital HPV at some point in their lives. Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is a very common group of viruses that contains more than 100 different types of strains. The virus lives in the skin or mucous membranes. Some strains cause hand or foot warts, and some cause genital warts. About 40 types of strains are transmitted sexually. HPV can infect both men and women in the genital area including the penis, vulva, anus, and the linings of the vagina, cervix or rectum. Not all strains cause health problems or symptoms and many times HPV will go away on its own. Most people who contract HPV show no signs or symptoms of the infection so they may never even know they have it. That is how HPV is spread so quickly. Some strains of HPV cause genital warts, cervical changes, or cervical cancer. Two strains (16 and 18) have been identified as causing over 70 percent of cervical cancer cases. Two different strains (6 and 11) have been identified as causing most cases of genital warts. Gardisil has recently been approved for girls and young women ages 9-26 to guard against these strains, as well as the ones most likely to cause genital warts, but it will not treat, cure or prevent HPV if you already have it.
Low Risk HPV Strains
HPV strains considered "low risk" may cause slight abnormalities on pap tests or genital warts. Genital warts are small bumps (they can be flat) that can occur singly or in multiple patches in the area on or around the genitals. They sometimes are described as having a cauliflower shape. Warts can appear within weeks, months or years after a person contracts HPV. Genital warts can be treated. Not all treatments work for everyone and the warts may return. If left untreated, genital warts could go away, remain unchanged or increase in size and number. Treatment of genital warts many not always reduce the chance of passing the virus on to another partner. Genital warts will not turn in to cancer.
High Risk HPV Strains
Strains that are "high risk" can cause cell changes that can lead to cervical or certain cancers of the penis, anal, vulva or vagina. Cancer caused by HPV is very rare. Women are at a higher risk of developing diseases from HPV than men, especially women with damaged immune systems. The strain that causes cervical cancer in women will very rarely cause health problems for men.
Lower Your HPV Risk!
Since many people never even know they are infected with HPV, partners usually share the virus. Vaginal and anal intercourse spread HPV. Some other skin to skin contact, such as foreplay, body rubbing and oral sex, may also pass it. Anyone who has ever had genital contact with another person is at risk for contracting HPV. Ways to lower your HPV risk include:
- Limiting the number of sex partners you have
- Choosing a sex partner that has had few or no other partners
- Using condoms, though this may not fully protect you since areas not covered can be exposed to the virus
Don't Forget Your Vitamins!
Currently there is no treatment to cure HPV, but most cases go away on their own without ever causing harmful diseases or health conditions. Treatment is available for the abnormal cell changes or warts caused by HPV. Having a healthy immune system can also help your body clear out the virus faster and decrease your genital wart outbreaks.