What is HPV?

What is HPV? – Definition

HPV stands for Human Papilloma Virus. In fact, when speaking about HPV one does not refer to one virus, but to a group of more than 150 related viruses that affect your skin and moist membranes, such as mouth, anus and cervix. About 40 virus types can affect the genital area. It is known that some of these viruses of the HPV type can cause warts, while others can cause some types of cancer.

How do you get HPV?

what is hpvHPV is transmitted via intimate skin-to-skin contact, via vaginal, anal or oral contact. For this reason, HPV is also considered a sexually transmitted disease, or STD. Anyone who is sexually active has a risk of getting infected with HPV, even when no symptoms are present. Symptoms might arise a long period after the first infection, in some cases even years later. Note that for the transmission of the disease skin-to-skin contact is enough. In other words it is not just transmitted through penetrative sex.

How many people have genital HPV infection?

Genital HPV is very common. It is believed that about all sexually active men and women will get infected by HPV at some point in their lives.

What are the symptoms of an HPV infection?

Often, an HPV infection does not cause any symptoms as the immune system can often get rid of it. However, HPV infections can cause

  • Genital warts (around the vagina and or the anus)
  • Abnormal tissue growth, which could sometimes lead to cervical cancer, vulvar cancer or vaginal cancer. (Cervical cancer is the second most common cancer for women under the age of 35).
  • Penile cancer
  • Anal cancer
  • Skin warts
  • Warts in the vocal cords
  • Head and Neck cancers

Can genital HPV be prevented?

There are certain actions you can take to reduce the risk of getting HPV infections.

  • The first one is to wear a condom, as often the case when talking about reducing sexually transmitted diseases. If you are in treatment for HPV, keep on using a condom up to 6 months after treatment to reduce the risk of passing the virus to your partner.
  • The second prevention type is HPV vaccination. Vaccinations are proven not only to prevent cervical, vulvar, vaginal and anal cancers but can also prevent genital warts caused by some types of HPV.

HPV vaccination

HPV vaccination consists of 2 to 3 injections in the upper arm. The number of injections depends on the age. In case of younger girls around 12-13 years old, two injections are required. The second injections should happen between 6 weeks and not more than 24 months after the first injection. If the second injection does not take place within that period, the complete treatment should start again. Prior to getting the HPV vaccination, one must know if he/she has ever had severe allergic reactions due to vaccines. The HPV vaccination gives a protection period of about 10 years.

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Medically reviewed on Jan 5 2017