While skin cancer, breast cancer, and lung cancer seem to be one of the major causes of concern, there is another common infection that a few of us are still not privy to.
Not to alarm you, but statistics reveal that when you contract this, chances are that you are not even going to know that you have it!
Numbers say that about 80% of sexually active men and women get infected with Human papillomavirus at some point in their lifetime. Further, it is also estimated that nearly all sexually active people are infected with Human papillomavirus within months to a few years of becoming sexually active! The numbers also reveal that almost all cases of cervical cancer are caused by HPV.
Conversely, the immune system usually controls Human papillomavirus infections, and these infections usually go away over time. Well, if there are two diverse thoughts about HPV and if it is so common, should you be worried?
Read on to find out!
Should you be worried?
Yes and no! HPV is a virus family that spreads primarily through sexual contact. Sexually transmitted HPV can be categorised into two categories: low risk and high risk. Low-risk HPVs cause no disease. But these low-risk HPVs cause warts, and these warts end up staying on the skin. Such warts mostly grow around the mouth, throat, or genital areas. However, there are high-risk HPVs that are cancerous.
In general, HPV is transmitted through skin-to-skin contact. The use of contraceptives lowers the chance of such infections, but may not prevent them completely. If you start experiencing any growth of warts or any abnormal itchiness after intercourse, always seek professional help.
While HPV is a virus and it spreads from one partner to another, don’t worry about it unnecessarily. If you are confused, or if you need medical support, do not hesitate to discuss this with your partner, and do not postpone seeking professional help!
Are you at risk?
Most of the Human papillomavirus infections wear away over time. This infection being controlled by the immune system, makes the automatic removal of the infection easy. However, some types of high-risk HPV can accelerate the risk of certain cancers or pre-cancer cell changes.
Research indicates that most high-risk HPV has been the cause of about 99% of cervical cancer. In a staggering fact, the high-risk variant of HPV has also been the cause of about ~90% of anal cancer. The virus has also been causing about 75% of vaginal cancer, 90% of genital warts, and about 50% of vulvar cancer.
Most of the high-risk HPV virus spread largely due to direct-to-direct skin contact. It passes on from one partner to another mostly during intercourse. The virus is also prone to spread from oral sex or even from deep kissing. There is also a very slim chance of the virus spreading from oral-genital, or hand-genital contacts.
What increases the risk?
While HPV can be directly transmitted from intercourse with a partner who has the virus, it can also be transmitted otherwise. There are general and age-related factors which also accelerate the chances of the HPV staying within the body:
- Age: Genital warts tend to grow over time. Sometimes this grows in young adults, and sometimes in older people.
- Open Skin: Warts are more likely to occur when a piece of skin is exposed. Someone with a cut or an open injury during intercourse has a potential chance of retaining the virus in the body.
- The Natural Immune System: The strength of the immune system also plays a role in the development of the virus. If an immune system is weak and vulnerable, the chances of the virus staying on and developing are high.
Signs to watch out for!
Most often than not, the HPV infections gradually wear out on their own. However, sometimes the HPV stays on. In such cases, there is a chance that the virus may take on cancerous forms. These viruses, which end up staying, can cause a range of cancers and conditions. Some of them include cervical cancer, vaginal cancer, vulvar cancer, or genital warts.
Whenever you experience any form of unusual discomfort, don’t hesitate to seek professional guidance. Common warning signs include: persistent itching in private areas; bleeding that isn’t due to menstruation; watery or bloody vaginal discharge with a foul odour; and abnormal swellings in the genital areas.
Can I get a jab?
Yes. HPV infections have vaccines to help prevent contracting the disease. Further, when the vaccine is given at the correct time, it can prevent cases of cancerous outbreaks. When the vaccine is given to girls or young women before they are exposed to the virus, the chances of preventing cervical cancer are high. If the vaccine is given before sexual exposure between 9 and 14 years, the vaccine is highly effective in preventing cervical cancer. The vaccine can also prevent the growth of warts and other forms of cancer.
Getting the vaccines!
Some of the commercially licenced vaccines are available in India. These vaccines – Gardasil and Cervarix are currently being sold in the country. Although HPV vaccination was introduced in 2008, it has yet to be a part of the national immunisation programme.
In India, the first indigenously developed vaccine to prevent cervical cancer is also scheduled to be launched soon. CERVAVAC, is expected to cost less than 400/-. Further, the vaccine is also likely to be effective against multiple variants of HPV. To fully benefit from the vaccine, the shot is prescribed for both young boys and girls!
While HPV is highly common, some of the infections stay within the body. When an HPV infection is caused by a high-risk type of HPV, the virus has the potential to transform into cancerous cells. However, the bright side is that most of the infections clear up on their own!
If you have any doubts and want to clear them up, make an appointment with your trusted medical counselor. Always include your partner in such conversations to make the discussions impactful.
Never hesitate to seek medical advice if you are in doubt. And, as conventional wisdom dictates, prevention is better than cure.