Human Papillomavirus, or HPV for short, is the most common sexually transmitted disease that infects humans. There’s a multitude of strains, and many of them don’t have symptoms. Others cause warts on the skin, some on the genitals. Others can cause cancer of the penis, anus, vagina, cervix and vulva. Scary stuff to say the least.
Thirty strains of HPV are considered STD’s and they are spread through any type of sexual contact. According to the American Social Health Association, nearly 80% of people who are sexually active will become infected with HPV.
So if it’s so easy to get, what are the HPV symptoms?
There aren’t many. One of the major symptoms of sexually transmitted strains of HPV is genital warts. These warts are in the genital/anal region and are soft and moist, pink or flesh colored, and can be rounded and raised or have many tiny bumps and ridges, similar to a cauliflower. There may be a cluster of them, or just a single wart. Other symptoms are rare, but can include things such as itching in the genital area, an increase in vaginal discharge, and bleeding during or after intercourse.
What are the risk factors of HPV?
- Damaged skin – The virus enters your body through tiny breaks in your skin or membranes.
- Age – Those with highest risk factors for genital wart infections are 20-24 year olds
- Number of sexual partners – The more sexual partners you have, the higher your risk for contacting the virus.
- Weakened immune systems – Anyone with a weak immune system is vulnerable to an HPV infection.
- Personal contact – Touching someone’s warts makes it possible for a transfer of the HPV infection, but so does not wearing protection before contacting surfaces such as public swimming pools or showers.
A healthy body normally takes care of HPV infections and within a year or two the virus is gone with little significance. However; in 5% to 10% cases where it isn’t taken care of by a healthy immune system, there’s a high risk of developing precancerous lesions of the cervix, which leads to cervical cancer. Pap smears help reduce the chance of precancerous cells turning into cancer as well as lower the number of fatalities due to early treatment, so women should stay current on these very important health tests. Good oral health and vaccines also help your HPV risk.
HPV can be scary, with no symptoms you’re never sure if you have become infected. You don’t have to live with worry and wondering during your sexually active years, there are vaccines to help prevent an HPV infection, and women should do some research, speak to their doctors and make an informed decision regarding vaccinating themselves and their daughters.