According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, human papillomavirus or HPV, is the most common of all sexually transmitted diseases. This particular virus has at least 40 related viruses that affect the genital area of both men and women.
Chances are you will not. In most cases of HPV infection, a person will not know if he or she has been infected because the body’s immune system will eradicate any signs of the disease following a period of approximately two years post infection. However, some infections do not clear up and can manifest as external genital warts. Human papillomavirus is also known to cause cervical cancer in some cases. Important to note, however, is the strain of HPV that causes genital warts is different from the strain of the disease that causes cervical cancer.
Genital warts can manifest in a number of ways, including individual bumps or as a group of bumps. The warts can take on a number of different sizes and shapes and can be either flat or raised. A gynecologist or general health practitioner will be able to give a conclusive diagnosis upon visual examination. Warts typically develop within weeks or even months following sexual contact with the infected individual; therefore, it is recommended that a person keep track of his or her sexual encounters in order to know from where the infection originates. If the warts are not treated, they will either go away or they will not. Regardless of their visible manifestation, however, these warts will not develop into cancer.
There are strains of HPV that have been known to turn into cervical and other gynecological cancers. Cervical cancer is one of the silent killers in that symptoms do not develop until the cancer has become advanced. Therefore, it is very important that a woman receive annual gynecological examinations and pap smears. In addition to cervical cancer, human papillomavirus can turn into other gynecological cancers such as cancer of the vulva, vagina, and anus.
What Causes HPV?
Human papillomavirus is a sexually transmitted disease that is passed from one person to another by means of vaginal and/or anal intercourse. It has also been reported that HPV can be transmitted via oral sex. HPV does not discriminate in that it equally affects homosexual and heterosexual couples. It is rare that an HPV-infected pregnant woman will pass on the infection to her unborn child as he or she passes through the birth canal.
HPV infection can cause a normal cell to turn into one that is abnormal. As mentioned earlier, this change goes largely unknown, and in the majority of HPV cases, the body’s own immune system will fight off the infection before it is even known about. While genital warts can take weeks and even months to develop, HPV-related cancers may take years to manifest.
- An estimated 20 million people have human papillomavirus.
- More than five million people will become infected with human papillomavirus this year.
- At least half the number of all sexually active people will become infected with human papillomavirus at some point in their lives.
- Approximately 1% of sexually active people will have genital warts at some point in their lives.
- At estimated 12,000 women develop cervical cancer each year. The majority of these cases are due to HPV infection.
- Approximately 1,500 women infected with HPV will develop vulvar cancer.
- Approximately 500 women infected with HPV will develop vaginal cancer.
- Approximately 400 men infected with HPV will develop cancer of the penis.
- Approximately 2,700 women and 1,500 men infected with HPV will develop anal cancer.
- Approximately 1,500 women and 5,600 men infected with HPV will develop oropharyngeal cancer.
- People with weaker immune systems such as those with HIV and/or AIDS have a much higher probability of developing HPV-related health issues.
Protect Yourself Against HPV
You can protect yourself and lower your risk of getting human papillomavirus by getting vaccinated. Gardisil and Cervarix are two effective vaccines that can protect sexually active women from developing the strains of HPV that lead to cervical cancer. Gardisil can protect a person from getting genital warts and against developing cancer of the anus, vagina and vulva. It is recommended that these vaccinations be given to girls between the ages of 13 and 26. This vaccination can be given to girls as young as nine years old. Gardisil is also effective in lowering the risk of HPV infection in both boys and men.
Abstinence is obviously the safest way to protect yourself from developing and transmitting this infectious disease to others. If you are sexually active, remember that you are essentially having sex with everyone your partner has been intimate with; therefore, it is wise to remain monogamous and know your partner’s past sexual history.