Recently, I’ve had friends who have been diagnosed with HPV, or the human papillomavirus. Their reaction has been of disbelief and fear, coupled with a lot of questions about the virus and its consequences. Knowing the facts about HPV can help you prevent a case of this stealthy, and potentially deadly, virus.
WHAT IS HPV?
According to the CDC, the genital papillomavirus is the most common sexually transmitted infection. The infection is viral and there are more than 40 HPVs that can affect the genital area and the anus. Moreover, HPV can also affect the mouth and the throat. Most people who have this infection do not know they have it; which is why it is so easily spread. HPV is passed through vaginal, anal and oral sex and it can be spread even when there are no symptoms. It is also possible to spread more than one type of HPV.
SYMPTOMS OF HPV
The good news about HPV is that most people do not develop symptoms or further complications from the infection. Furthermore, 90% of HPV infections are cleared by the body’s own immune system in a matter of one to two years from the time of infection. However, the infections that are not cleared can cause further symptoms, such as genital warts, warts in the throat, cervical cancer and cancers of the vulva, vagina, penis, anus, and the back of the throat.
Read Related: How to Protect Yourself from STIs & STDs
HPV can atrophy normal cells. These changes are usually silent, and although in most cases the body fights the virus, when unsuccessful, HPV can cause genital warts or different types of cancer. The development of cancer usually takes several years. Unfortunately, there is no way of knowing who will develop cancer or other health problems from HPV.
Currently, HPV tests are only used in women’s health screenings (Pap test). There is no HPV test to check HPV in the genitals, mouth or throat and there is no test to check HPV in men. There is no treatment for the virus but there is treatment for genital warts and cervical and other cancers caused by HPV. It is important to know that the same HPV virus that causes genital warts does not cause cancer and that genital warts do not turn into cancer. However, there is not much that is known about how long the virus stays active in the body once warts have been removed.
Therefore, the best practice is to take these preventive steps:
- Male Condom: Women should insist that their male partners wear condoms for every sexual activity, including oral sex.
- Female Condom: The female condom can also protect against HPV and other STIs.
- Vaccination: There are currently two HPV vaccines in the market. Consult with your doctor about your options. There is a lot of controversy around the available vaccines.
- Annual Screenings: Do not skip your annual Pap test.
- Visual Screenings: Check your genitalia regularly (at least once a month) for anything abnormal.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU HAVE HPV
Prevention is the only sure action against HPV. However, condoms are only partially effective in preventing HPV infection because they only protect the parts of the body that are covered with the condom. For instance, in the case of genital warts, these can appear in areas outside the penis or vagina, thus having the possibility to spread on skin to skin contact. Here’s what to do if you have HPV:
- Always wear a condom from start to finish of a sexual act and even for oral sex.
- If you have had genital warts, do not have skin to skin contact with your partner until they are cleared and even after that, wear a condom.
- Do not use the HPV diagnosis to measure the fidelity of your partner. Most likely, everybody who is sexually active, even monogamous for a long time, will have HPV at some point in their lives without knowing it.
- Boost your immune system. Help your body fight the virus by making your immune system more efficient.
- Try natural remedies such as oil of oregano, olive leaf extract and colloidal silver. These remedies are powerful antivirals. Some doctors recommend using vinegar to detect genital warts but I would steer away from anything acidic in the genital area.
If you have been diagnosed with HPV, do not forget to protect others from getting infected. Follow your doctor’s recommendations, take care of yourself, and be a responsible sex partner with others.