Understanding Human Papillomavirus (HPV)


HPV stands for human papilloma virus. It is a very common virus. There are about 100 types of HPV that affect different parts of the body. About 30 types of HPV can affect the genitals — including the vulva, vagina, cervix, penis, and scrotum — as well as the rectum and anus. Of those, about 13 types are considered high risk, for leading to cervical cancer.

How common is HPV?

Most men and women — about 80 percent of sexually active people will be infected with at least one type of genital HPV at some time. Anyone who has any kind of sexual activity involving genital contact could get genital HPV. In most people, HPV is harmless and has no symptoms, but in some people the virus may persist and lead to diseases of the genital area, including cervical cancer and some cancers of the vulva, vagina, and anus and genital warts.

Speaking to your doctor for ways to help prevent HPV disease, including vaccination will help you understand more about the HPV virus. Certain strains of HPV can cause changes in the cells of the cervix, a condition called cervical dysplasia. If untreated, dysplasia can progress to cervical cancer. HPV is almost always the cause of cervical cancer. However, just because a woman has HPV or cervical dysplasia does not necessarily mean she will get cervical cancer. Women should continue with regular Pap smears to help prevent the negative effects of the HPV virus.

What can I do to help protect myself from HPV infection and disease?

Because HPV is so easily passed on, it is quite difficult to prevent yourself from being infected with this common virus. Up to 80% of males and females will be infected with at least one type of HPV at some time in their life. But remember that most people clear HPV infection from their body without any symptoms or health problems.

(1) Safe sex: If used correctly, condoms can help reduce the risk of genital HPV. However condoms don't provide 100% protection against HPV as it is transmitted through genital skin contact not just sexual intercourse. It is important to remember that condoms also provide protection against other sexually transmitted diseases.

(2) Vaccination: It is now possible to be vaccinated against some types of HPV. In males vaccination may help protect against genital warts and some anal cancers. In females, vaccination may help protect against cervical cancer, some vaginal, vulval and anal cancers and genital warts.

For females aged up to 45 years and males aged up to 26 years, HPV is also available. Vaccination does not protect against all HPV types that could cause cervical cancer therefore it is important women continue with regular Pap smears.

How are genital warts treated?

Genital warts can disappear on their own without treatment. However, there is no way to tell if they will grow larger or disappear. Depending on the size and location of the genital warts, there are several treatment options....

There is no cure for the virus itself, but many HPV infections go away on their own. In fact, about 70 percent to 90 percent of cases of HPV infection are cleared from the body by the immune system.

According to Harvard Medical School, you can do that by choosing a healthy lifestyle. Following general good-health guidelines is the single best step you can take toward keeping your immune system strong and healthy. Every part of your body, including your immune system, functions better when protected from environmental assaults and bolstered by healthy-living strategies such as these:

(1) Don’t smoke.

(2) Eat a diet high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and low in saturated fat.

(3) Exercise regularly.

(4) Maintain a healthy weight.

(5) Control your blood pressure.

(6) If you drink alcohol, drink only in moderation.

(7) Get adequate sleep.

(8) Take steps to avoid infection, such as washing your hands frequently and cooking meats thoroughly.

(9) Get regular medical screening tests for people in your age group and risk category...