Human papillomavirus or HPV is a skin or mucous membrane. There are at least 100 varieties of HPV, some of which can cause cervical cancer. Different types of HPV cause different types of symptoms in various parts of the body. For instance, certain HPV infection causes plantar warts on the feet, whereas others cause warts around the face and neck region.
HPV is generally considered as a sexually transmitted disease (STD). A person with multiple sexual partners can get infected from HPV. However, intercourse is not necessarily required to contract the infection. In some cases, a mother with HPV can transmit the virus to her newborn baby during delivery. Other factors that might cause HPV include chlamydia, oral contraceptives, having more than three pregnancies, and anal fistula.
The only distinct symptom of HPV is genital or plantar warts occurring on different parts of the skin. Recent updates in our country’s health guidelines suggest that men and women should have their first Pap smear tests done at the age of 21, regardless of the onset of sexual activity. The symptoms of HPV might go away on their own and develop again in a couple of years, which might eventually develop into cancer. Hence, it is necessary to get it checked once every one or two years as there are at least 13 strains of HPV that can lead to cervical cancer.
The doctors might also advise a follow-up test of colposcopy in which the doctors use a colposcope to examine the reproductive parts for abnormal skin growth. It is important to note that this procedure to diagnose HPV is available only for women.
For asymptomatic infections of HPV and genital warts, no specific treatment is recommended as the symptoms go away on their own. Lower strains of HPV, such as HPV 6 and HPV 11, account for most of the genital wart outbreaks. Doctors prescribe topical creams for other cases in which warts reappear. They might also use cryotherapy (using liquid nitrogen) or electrotherapy to burn away the warts. Other treatments include laser therapy or trichloroacetic acid.
Dysplasia is a type of high-risk HPV leading to abnormal changes in the tissues of the anus and the genitals. For persons with moderate to high-grade dysplasia, doctors recommend removing the infected tissue using a loop electrosurgical excision procedure (LEEP), cone biopsy, and other surgical techniques. Treating dysplasia (whether of the anus, penis, cervix, or larynx) only treats the infection and not the root cause. Hence, people diagnosed with dysplasia need to be monitored closely for recurrence, especially when HPV lasts for more than two years.
The easiest way to prevent HPV is to use condoms and limit the number of sexual partners. Our country’s health regulation guidelines recommend HPV vaccines for boys and girls aged between 11 and 12. There are different strains of vaccines for individuals aged under 26 and between 27 and 45. These vaccines also prevent some of the cancers that might result due to high strains of HPV. Doctors also advise getting regular health checkups, pap smears, and screenings.
It is important to discuss all the possible treatment options with a doctor as HPV infections can be distressing. However, the diagnostic procedures mentioned above can provide the opportunity of protecting oneself before the infection becomes serious and life-threatening.