WHAT IS HUMAN PAPILLOMAVIRUS (HPV)
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is an infection caused by a virus that is transmitted from one person to another through skin-to-skin contact.
There exist more than 100 varieties of HPV, all of which can be transmitted through sexual contact, and extend to affect the genitals, mouth, or throat.
According to reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), HPV is the most commonly sexually transmitted infection.
It’s always so common that most sexually active people will contract some varieties of the virus at some point, even though they have few sexual partners.
However, some cases of genital HPV infection may not pose any health threats, but some types of HPV can result in the development of genital warts, or cancers of the cervix, anus, and throat.
Causes And Mode Of Transmission
The virus that causes HPV infection is usually transmitted through skin-to-skin contact, mostly through vaginal, anal, or oral sexual intercourse.
Many people contract HPV but don’t even know it. This means another person can also contract it from their partners even though they may not show any symptoms of the infection. Also, it’s much possible for one to have multiple types of HPVs.
In some cases, a pregnant mother who has HPV can also transmit the virus to her baby during delivery.
If this happens, the child may likely develop a condition known as “recurrent respiratory papillomatosis”. This is a condition where the baby develops HPV-related warts inside his throat or airways.
Mode of transmission of HPV in children
HPV can be transmitted to infants during birth. Notwithstanding, this risk is relatively low because the immune system usually fights off the infection in this case.
If a young child shows symptoms of HPV, it may probably indicate child sexual abuse.
The following are the factors that increase the risk of HPV:
1) Having many sexual partners.
2) Having sexual intercourse with those who have several sexual partners.
3) Having sex without using a condom.
4) Having contact with infected areas of injured skin.
5) Having contact with warts from other persons, or surfaces where HPV has been exposed.
6) Ignoring the HPV vaccination.
The risk of developing cancer from infection with HPV is higher if a person has:
1) Other sexually transmitted diseases such as chlamydia.
2) Delivered her first baby at a younger age.
3) Is prone to giving birth to many children.
4) Smokes toxic substances such as tobacco products.
5) Has a weak or compromised immune system
A doctor can as always diagnose HPV with a visual examination if warts or lesions develop. Also, other screening tests can be performed to confirm the presence of the virus.
Surprisingly, symptoms of HPV may begin to appear years after the initial infection. The following are the signs and symptoms of HPV:
1) Genital warts:
For genital warts, a person may develop a small bump on the skin, a cluster of bumps, or stem-like protrusions.
Warts developed can range in size and appearance which may be large or small,
flat or cauliflower-shaped, white, pink, red, purplish-brown, or skin-colored. Besides, they can form on the vulva, cervix, penis or scrotum, anus, and groin area.
These warts can cause itching, burning, and other discomforts.
2) Other types of warts:
Also, HPV can cause other types of warts including common warts, plantar warts, and flat warts.
Common warts are always rough and raised bumps that seem to form on the fingers, hands, and elbows.
Plantar warts are fairly hard and have grainy growths that develop on the feet, usually on the heels or balls of the feet region.
Flat warts are flat-topped, and slightly raised lesions that are much darker than the surrounding skin and mostly appear on the face or neck region.
HOW HPV CAN LEAD TO THE DEVELOPMENT OF CANCER
It is important to know that while some variants of HPV cause warts to form, others will increase the risk of developing cancer.
Some people with HPV may not develop cancer, however. This is because their immune system is much stronger than those who will likely develop it owning to weak immune systems.
Moreso, a high-risk strain of HPV can alter how cells communicate with each other, thus causing them to grow uncontrollably.
For many people, the immune system will always defeat the abnormal cells.
Howbeit, if the immune system cannot do this, the cells will stay in the body and continue to grow uncontrollably, leading to cancer. Although, this may take 10–20 years for it to develop since it would require time to form a tumor first before developing into cancer.
According to research studies in some countries like the U.S., about 3% of the female population living with cancer, and 2% of all males living with cancer have been reported to have developed from infection with HPV.
This infection can be seen to affect the following parts of the body including the cervix, vulva, vagina, penis, anus, oropharynx, the base of the tongue, and the tonsils.
Routine screening and check-ups of the general health status can lead to an early diagnosis of cancer, and prompt treatment of preventing cancer from spreading to other parts of the body.
The best treatment option will depend on the type of cancer, its stage of development, age, and the overall health status of the person.
PREVENTION OF INFECTION WITH HPV
To reduce the risk of contracting HPV, a person can consider the following:
1) Getting the HPV vaccine.
2) Using barrier protection such as condoms each time they want to have intercourse.
3) Limiting the number of sexual partners.
4) Not having sex while genital warts are present to prevent it from spreading.
5) Avoid touching warts or lesions unnecessarily.
6) Washing the hands after touching warts.
7) Avoid shaving the pubic region over a wart.
8) Treat and cover warts until it disappears.
9) Avoid sharing towels, clothes, and other personal items.
HPV SCREENING TESTS
Screening tests for HPV is very different in men and women. Tests for HPV include the following:
1) Pap smear
2) DNA test
1) A Pap smear, also known as a cervical smear, involves collecting samples of cells from the surface of the cervix or vagina. This screening test can reveal any abnormal cells present that may lead to the development of cancer.
2) A DNA test screens for the high-risk types of HPV infections. Although, this test is better used alongside a Pap Smear for a perfect result.
3) A biopsy involves taking a piece of the affected skin as a sample. This type of test may be necessary if other tests reveal unusual cell changes.
HPV SCREENING TESTS IN FEMALES
In females, regular Pap tests will help to identify abnormal cell growth in women. This type of test can reveal cervical cancer or other HPV-related problems in women.
Women with ages ranging from 21 to 29 years are advised to have a Pap test at least every three years.
For women with age that ranges from 30 to 65 years, they are also advised to do one of the following:
1) Receive a Pap test every three years.
2) Receive an hrHPV test is not more than every five years as this will screen for high-risk types of HPV (hrHPV)
3) Receive both Pap test and hrHPV test together every five years. This type of test is known as co-testing. However, standalone tests are most preferred over co-testing according to the USPSTF.
If you are younger than 30 years of age, keep in mind that your doctor or gynecologist may also request an hrHPV test if your Pap results are not clear.
That being said, there are about 14 strains of HPV that can lead to the development of cancer.
If you are among those persons that has one of these strains, your doctor will likely monitor you for cervical changes. Also, your doctor will also request a follow-up test such as a colposcopy.
HPV SCREENING TESTS IN MALES
It’s prime important to note that the HPV DNA test is strictly available for diagnosing HPV infection in women. For men, there’s currently no FDA-approved test available.
Notwithstanding, some doctors may recommend an anal Pap test for men that have an increased risk of developing anal cancer, or for men who are addicted to anal sex.
IS THERE ANY RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN HPV AND FERTILITY?
If HPV infection is left untreated, it will certainly lead to infertility, and this will happen in such a way that some strains of HPV will develop the potential to increase the risk of cervical cancer.
As a solution to this, cancerous or pre-cancerous cells from the cervix should be removed.
HOW DOES HPV TREATMENT AFFECT FEMALE FERTILITY
With HPV infection, your doctors may decide to remove abnormal cells from the infected areas. To achieve this, they will apply one of the following techniques:
1) Cryotherapy, or intensive freezing and eliminating the abnormal cells.
2) A cone biopsy for removal of the cervix
3) A loop electrosurgical excision procedure (LEEP) to remove cells that carry an electrical charge with a wire loop.
Unfortunately, these procedures can affect your ability to bear a child or even reach full term in your pregnancy. This is because the cell removal will change your cervical mucus production.
Besides, it may likely cause stenosis or narrowing of the opening of the cervix. As a result, this may slow down the movement of sperm deposited in the vagina and make it much more difficult for the egg to get fertilized.
The downside of cervical treatment causes the cervix to weaken, or may lead to other related problems.
HOW DOES HPV AFFECT MALE FERTILITY
From research studies, it has been found that men whose semen contained HPV can also experience infertility as well.
For instance, if a sperm infected with HPV fertilizes an egg, it will increase the risk of causing an early miscarriage.
Also, HPV has an adverse effect on sperm motility as well.
HPV infection shouldn’t be delayed treatment so as to reduce the high level of risks, and complications associated with it.
The health of an individual is very important to be vigilant as there’s no duplication of life.
As food for the thoughts, start now to go for routine screenings and check-ups with your doctor in the hospital to stay safe from HPV infection, and other health-related problems.