HPV, the acronym for Human Papillomavirus, is a term that refers to a group of over 150 viruses that cause genital warts. These viruses start infection in the keratinocytes of the skin or mucous membranes.
It is a very common infection, with around twenty million people in the United States being affected by it. Around thirty out of the hundred HPV types are sexually transmitted, which in turn can lead to genital warts or atypical cell alterations in cervix and other genital parts, leading to cancer.
What Causes HPV?
HPV is spread via direct skin contact with a person who is infected by HPV. The contact includes anal, vaginal, and oral sex. Any person who is active sexually can be affected by HPV.
Symptoms of HPV
Most people who are affected by HPV don’t show any health problem or symptom. However, few others may develop some health problems, which could be clear through the symptoms discussed below.
Genital wart formation: Genital warts appear on the outer genital walls of males as well as females, which is the most common and visible symptom of sexually transmitted HPV infection.
Abnormalities in women’s cervical region: There may be some unusual changes in a woman’s cervical area. Doctors may recommend medications accordingly. To diagnose and confirm this infection, a Pap smear test has to be conducted. Under the extreme conditions, it may cause cervical cancer.
Pain in pelvic area: Several women complain of pain in the pelvic area, mainly because of viral infection in reproductive organs.
Itching and burning sensation: During urination, the affected person may feel an itching and burning sensation.
Flesh and pink colored lesions: Pink and flesh colored lesions and rashes are commonly seen on the exposed genital area.
Moisture on affected regions: The affected regions always tend to stay moist and damp.
Other types of warts: Apart from genital warts, common and flat warts can also be seen over the infected areas.
HPV cannot be diagnosed through blood tests, but there are few tests that can help your doctor diagnose the condition. These tests are discussed below:
Pap Smear Test: Cell samples are removed from the cervix and inspected under a microscope to find if there are any changes in those cells, even if there are no genital warts.
HPV DNA Test: The cell sample is checked for the HPV genetic material (DNA). This way, the doctor can also find the kind of HPV associated with cervical cancer.
Colposcopy: The doctor makes use of an instrument called colposcope for this test. This instrument glitters a light and then magnifies the cervix view. A solution of vinegar is kept on the cervix. If infected with the virus, the solution converts the abnormal cells into white color. So, they can be seen more easily.
There is no cure for HPV itself, but several of these infections clear out on its own. Actually, around 70%-90% of HPV infections cases get cleared from the human body by the immunity system.
If at all treatment is required, the objective of the chosen treatment would be to relieve the symptoms by getting rid of the visible warts as well as abnormal cells present in the cervix. Few of the treatment options are:
Loop Electrosurgical Excision Procedure (LEEP): This method uses a special wire loop for removing the abnormal cells.
Laser therapy: Here, an intense light destroys the warts and abnormal cells.
Cryosurgery: This process involves freezing away the warts using liquid nitrogen.
Electrocautery: In this method of treatment, the warts are burned away using an electrical current.
Prescription cream: Medicated creams are prescribed, which are applied directly on the warts.
It is not recommended to use any over-the-counter medications for treating HPV. Your healthcare provider will closely monitor the cellular changes during your screening consultations and advise treatment accordingly.
Can Men Get Affected by HPV?
Yes, men also get affected by this virus. In this case, warts are usually seen on the penis, scrotum, groin or in and around the anus. However, diagnosing HPV is difficult in the case of men as there are usually no symptoms. It can be diagnosed only by the presence of external warts.
How to Prevent HPV Infection?
As the old saying goes, prevention is better than cure. So, it is better to prevent HPV than getting infected and looking for an effective treatment. Using condoms each time you involve in sex can help in reducing HPV associated risks. Though, they are not 100% effective in protecting against virus spread as condoms don’t cover the entire genital skin. A better prevention method would be to get vaccinated with HPV vaccines, like Gardasil or Cervarix
Save yourself from the hassle of having to deal with an infection like HPV by taking the necessary prevention methods.