In this article we will look at:
- What is HPV infection?
- How does HPV infection occur?
- Who is prone to HPV infection?
- Symptoms of HPV infection
- Diagnosis of HPV infection
- Complications of HPV infection
- Treatment for HPV infection
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What is HPV infection?
The human papillomavirus (HPV) gets transmitted from person to person through skin contact and can cause Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs). There are more than 100 strains of HPV, of which 40 strains can be passed on through sexual contact.
Although most HPV infections go away without causing any serious harm, they, however, can sometimes pose serious health risks and cause conditions such as cancer of the:
How does HPV infection occur?
The HPV virus gets transferred through skin-to-skin contact. The various ways HPV can be contracted are:
- When the virus enters a person’s system through a small cut, or abrasion, on the skin.
- HPV can also be sexually transmitted (including oral sex, and anal sex) which causes genital HPV infections in the form of genital warts. Oral sex can also cause HPV infections that result in upper respiratory lesions.
- In rare cases, a pregnant woman can pass HPV to her baby during vaginal delivery. (Mothers may also face the complication of large genital warts blocking the birth canal during pregnancy. Pregnant mothers need to wait for the treatment of genital warts till after delivery.)
- HPV can spread through warts which are highly contagious. Grooming areas with warts such as, brushing or combing, and then touching other parts of the body. Sharing tools with people who are affected by warts, such as combs, files, pumice stones. Even if you use the tools, for instance, the pumice stone to rub warts on one part of your body and then use it on another part of your body, chances are the warts will spread to that part. Picking on warts, which will only help the virus to spread more.
Who is prone to HPV infection?
The people who are prone to HPV infection include:
- those who have multiple sexual partners or who have a partner who has multiple sexual partners
- those with weak immune systems especially people with HIV or AIDS
- people with untreated open cuts or wounds on the skin
- those who have had skin-to-skin contact with people suffering from HPV especially contact with the warts
- those who use the personal items used by a person with HPV such as combs, towels etc.
What are the symptoms of HPV infection? How is HPV infection diagnosed?
Usually, the body’s immune system attacks and destroys the HPV infection before symptoms (mainly warts) appear. The types of warts include:
- Common warts: that occur on the hands, and are rough, dome-shaped, and gray-brown.
- Plantar warts: that grow on the soles of the feet and are hard and thick with dark specks. They can be painful when you walk.
- Flat warts: that can grow on the face, arms, and legs. They’re small, have flat tops, and maybe light yellow, brown, or pink.
- Filiform warts: that can grow on the face, usually around the mouth, nose, or chin. They are the same colour as the skin, but they have thread-like growths sticking out of them.
- Periungual warts: that occur under and around the fingernails and toenails.
- Genital warts: that are small cauliflower-like bumps and appear in women, genital warts appear mostly on the vulva but can also occur near the anus, on the cervix or in the vagina.
In men, genital warts appear on the penis and scrotum or around the anus. Genital warts rarely cause discomfort or pain, though they may itch.
A general physician can easily diagnose a wart by:
- examining the wart
- gently scraping off the uppermost layer of the wart to check for signs of clotted blood vessels, which appear as dark, pinpoint dots that is common with warts
- removing part of the wart and sending it for biopsy to rule out any other skin condition
Sometimes in cases of HPV infection in genital areas warts which are like flat lesions are not visible. In such cases, the doctor may also advise additional tests such as:
- Vinegar solution test, in which a vinegar solution applied to potentially HPV-infected genital areas. If HPV infected the genital areas turn white.
- A Pap test, in which samples of cells are collected from the cervix or vagina and sent to the laboratory for analysis. Pap tests can reveal abnormal cells that can lead to cancer.
- A DNA test in which cells are collected from the cervix and tested. This test can reveal if the DNA is of the high-risk varieties of HPV that has been linked to genital cancers.
What are the complications of HPV infection?
The complications of HPV infection include:
- cervical, anal, vaginal, vulval, penile and some types of mouth and throat cancers.
- oral and respiratory lesions on your tongue, tonsils, soft palate, or within your larynx and nose.
What is the treatment for HPV infection?
Usually, for warts doctors prescribe some topical applications. However, if the condition is severe then the doctor may suggest these techniques:
- Freezing: Liquid nitrogen is used to destroy the wart
- Laser therapy: to destroy the wart
- Heat treatment: such as electrocautery or loop electrosurgical excision procedures.
- Surgery: where the wart is cut off surgically which may leave a scar.
Questions answered by trusted doctors
Did you know?
HPV infection need not necessarily last forever
People are of the opinion that HPV is a lifelong infection. But most of the HPV infections in people can be cleared by the immune system within one to two years. This however, does not mean that you should ignore HPV infection. If you have been diagnosed with HPV infection make sure to follow up with your doctor and take the necessary treatment.
HPV infection can increase the risk of cancer
HPV is very often associated with a risk for certain cancers, such as cervical cancer or oral cancers. Cancer though can take years and even decades to develop in a person suffering from HPV infection. The genital warts causing HPV is not the same strain as those that can cause cancers.
HPV infection is a well-established cause of cervical cancer
Virtually all cases of cervical cancer are caused by HPV, and just two HPV types, 16 and 18, are responsible for about 70% of all cases. Based on Indian studies (performing HPV detection tests in cervical samples) about 5.0% of women in the general population are found to carry cervical HPV-16/18 infection at a given time, and 82.7% of invasive cervical cancers showed the presence of HPVs 16 or 18.
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