HPV infection occurs when the virus enters the body, usually through a cut, abrasion or small tear in the skin. The virus is transferred primarily by skin-to-skin contact. There is no blood test available to detect HPV. Most people who have HPV are not aware that they have it!
HPV is the name of a very common group of viruses. They do not cause any problems in most people, but some types can cause genital warts or cancer. There are more than 100 varieties of HPV. Most HPV infections don’t lead to cancer, but some types of genital HPV can cause cancer of the lower part of the uterus that connects to the vagina (cervix). These infections are often transmitted sexually or through other skin-to-skin contact.
HPV types linked to cancer are called high-risk types. Cancers linked to high-risk HPV include:
- cervical cancer
- anal cancer
- cancer of the penis
- vulval cancer
- vaginal cancer
- some types of head and neck cancer
Generally the body’s immune system defeats HPV infections before it creates warts. When warts do appear, they vary in appearance depending on which kind of HPV is involved: link
- Genital warts – these warts are similar to warts that appear in other parts of the body and are generally painless. It is recommended that you have routine tests for all sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including chlamydia, gonorrhoea, syphilis and HIV. link
- Common warts – these warts appear as rough, raised bumps and usually occur on the hands and fingers. In most cases, common warts are simply unsightly, but they can also be painful or susceptible to injury or bleeding.
- Flat warts – these warts are flat-topped, slightly raised lesions. They can appear anywhere, but children usually get them on the face and men tend to get them in the beard area. Women tend to get them on the legs.
- Plantar warts – these warts are hard, grainy growths that usually appear on the heels or balls of your feet. They may cause discomfort.
- Cervical Cancer – most cervical cancers are caused by HPV infections, but may take 20 years or longer to develop after an HPV infection. The HPV infection and early cervical cancer typically don’t cause noticeable symptoms. Getting vaccinated against HPV infection is your best protection from cervical cancer. It is important that women have regular screening to discover any pre-cancerous changes in their cervix which might lead to cancer.
How to protect yourself against HPV
You cannot fully protect yourself against HPV, but there are things that can help. link
- Condoms can help protect you against HPV, but they do not cover all the skin around your genitals, so you’re not fully protected.
- The HPV vaccine protects against the types of HPV that cause most cases of genital warts and cervical cancer, as well as some other cancers. It does not protect against all types of HPV.
Vaccines can help protect against the strains of HPV most likely to cause genital warts or cervical cancer. link
According to the World Health Organisation, three HPV vaccines are now being marketed in many countries throughout the world – a bivalent, a quadrivalent, and a nonavalent vaccine. All three vaccines are highly efficacious in preventing infection with virus types 16 and 18, which are together responsible for approximately 70% of cervical cancer cases globally. The vaccines are also highly efficacious in preventing precancerous cervical lesions caused by these virus types. The quadrivalent vaccine is also highly efficacious in preventing anogenital warts, a common genital disease which is virtually always caused by infection with HPV types 6 and 11. The nonavalent provides additional protection against HPV types 31, 33, 45, 52 and 58. Data from clinical trials and initial post-marketing surveillance conducted in several continents show all three vaccines to be safe. link
The CDC recommend giving 11-12 year-old children two doses of the HPV vaccine to prevent common cancers later in life. CDC consider the vaccination to be safe. There is no evidence to suggest that the HPV vaccine causes fertility problems. link