HPV is a group of more than 200 related viruses, some of which are spread through vaginal, anal, or oral sex. HPV stands for Human Papilloma Virus. Sexually transmitted HPV can be categorized into two groups, low-risk and high-risk.
Low risk HPV causes no serious disease. Some may cause warts around the genitals.
High risks of HPV can cause deadlier diseases like cancers. Among these HPV 16 and HPV, 18 are the most dangerous ones.
Some important facts about HPV Infections
- Nearly all sexually active people once in their lifetime get infected with HPV.
- It can affect both men and women and can develop into HPV-caused cancers.
- The body’s immune system usually fights against this infection so they don’t cause cancer.
- When a high-risk HPV infection persists for many years, it can lead to cell changes that, if untreated, may get worse over time and become cancer.
- HPV vaccines can prevent infection with disease-causing HPV types, preventing many HPV-related cancers.
How does it get infected?
HPV infects the squamous cells that line the inner surfaces of these organs. For this reason, most HPV-related cancers are a type of cancer called squamous cell carcinoma. Some cervical cancers come from HPV infection of gland cells in the cervix and are called adenocarcinoma.
HPV infection passes easily between sexual partners. It can be transmitted through any intimate skin-to-skin contact, including vaginal–penile sex, penile-anal sex, penile–oral sex, vaginal–oral sex, and the use of sex toys or other objects. Condoms and dental dams can lower the chance of HPV transmission but do not prevent it completely.
Precancerous lesions at other sites in the body may cause symptoms like itching or bleeding. And if an HPV infection develops into cancer, cancer may cause symptoms like bleeding, pain, or swollen glands.
Preventing HPV infections
HPV vaccination is recommended by the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to prevent new HPV infections and HPV-associated cancers and other diseases.
HPV vaccination provides strong protection against new HPV infections. Although vaccination is prevention, it does not cure an infection once you have it. HPV vaccination offers the most protection when given at ages 9-12. HPV vaccination is estimated to prevent up to 90% of HPV-related cancers.
When should it be given?
The HPV vaccine series is recommended for girls and boys, at the age of 11 or 12, and the series can be started at age 9. It is important for males as well as females to get vaccinated because both men and women can develop cancers of the mouth, throat, and anal cancers.
The HPV vaccine can be given to adults between the ages of 27 and 45 who didn’t receive all vaccine doses earlier. Adults in this age group benefit less from the vaccine because they are more likely to have been exposed to HPV already. Therefore, vaccination is not routinely recommended for people in this age group.