The Human Papillomavirus (or HPV) is one of the most common infections in the world. It’s estimated that 20 million people in the US are currently infected with the disease and according to the American Social Health Association, three out of every four sexually active people between the ages of 15 and 49 will contract the disease at some point.
It is actually a collection over one hundred related diseases which can have a variety of effects on the human body but one of the most common symptoms are HPV warts. These appear as bumps or growths of varying sizes. Some appear to be raised off the skin, while others are relatively flat. They Sometimes they appear in clusters but they can also appear as single bumps and they can also appear anywhere on the body. Some plantar warts on the soles of the feet are actually HPV warts. Other types of HPV lead to rough, painful warts on the hands. Others cause flat-topped, darkly colored warts on the face, neck, and hands.
One of the most common locations are on the genitals. 40 out of the 100 types of HPV cause genital warts, which appear on the vulva, vagina, cervix or anus of women and around the penis, scrotum and anus on men. Genital warts are rarely actually painful but they aren’t particularly pleasant to look at, leading to potential embarrassment. Genital warts are also particularly hazardous for transmission of the disease.
It transmits through direct skin to skin contact. This can occur during sexual
contact or it can occur during regular daily contact. Because they don’t just appear on the genitals, normally sexual protection not be entirely effective in preventing the spread. It won’t help to wear a condom if they are on your neck. The other problem is that it can even transmit before any warts have appeared. Some strains of the virus (including some of the most dangerous strains) don’t ever exhibit warts, and other strains often won’t begin to show signs of infection until weeks or months after initial contact. Since so many of the warts it causes are small or flat, you may not even notice once they have appeared.
Warts aren’t the only negative consequence of the disease. Two strains of the disease, 16 and 18 to be specific, are the leading causes of cervical cancer among women, causing about 70% of cervical cancers. Neither of these strains actually cause HPV warts, making them particularly hard to detect. In addition the early stages of cervical cancer also have very few symptoms.
This is one of the main reasons regular Pap screenings are suggested. Pap testing can detect early changes in the cervix that could suggest that a cancer is forming. Aside from cervical cancer, other forms of HPV can have other consequences, such as causing dangerous, easily infected lesions on the inside of the mouth, on the tongue, tonsils, larynx, and palate.
Its because of these serious dangers and the ease with which it spreads, there is a vaccine that’s becoming popular and because the danger is especially high for women, the vaccine is now recommended for most teenage girls. The vaccine, called Gardasil, includes active cultures of four of the most dangerous types of HPV, namely 6, 11, 16, and 18. It’s been shown to stops 7 out of 10 cases of cervical cancer, and 9 out of 10 cases of HPV warts.
Still, the vaccine isn’t effective against all forms of the virus, so it’s always
recommended that you do what you can to stay safe. You’re more likely to contract HPV if you have multiple sexual partners or if your sexual partner has multiple sexual partners.
Though condoms and dental dams won’t stop all HPV infections, they can help and are always recommended (for other reasons too!). If your partner has visible HPV warts or any other sign of sexually transmitted infections, avoid sexual contact. If you believe you’re at high risk, look into the HPV vaccine. As always, the most effective method of protection is frank and honest conversation with your partner about their sexual habits and health. You can’t eliminate your risk of entirely, but these steps will help keep you safe.