Human Papillomavirus: Epidemiology, Causes, Symptoms, And Management
Protected sexual intercourse campaigns are actively being promoted throughout the world to make the population more aware of infections and diseases that are transmitted through sexual interactions. There are a number of different sexually transmitted infections that scientists have already discovered. Some of these infections are more serious than others, with HIV often dubbed as the most serious of them all.
The Human Papillomavirus, or HPV, is considered to be the most common infection that is transmitted through sexual activity. This sexually transmitted infection already infects around 45.2% of men and 39.9% of women in the United States. At least 80% of all people are estimated to be infected with HPV at some point in their life.
What is HPV?
HPV is a sexually transmitted infection that is considered to be one of the most common in North America, as well as many other parts of the world. The term HPV is actually used to describe over 150 different viruses, all related to the Human Papillomavirus infection. Different types of HPV viruses, also called strains, are classified by specific numbers. Some strains of these viruses are more harmful than others. This is also one of the more complicated sexually transmitted infections due to the fact that it often does not yield any symptoms that may signal the presence of HPV.
The HPV virus does not cause any obvious symptoms like most other sexually transmitted infections do. This is one of the most significant problems that the healthcare industry, as well as the infected part of the population, is currently facing in regards to the virus.
The majority of the HPV strains that infect people tend to cause warts – these are often considered more a complication than a symptom, but still provides an indication that a person may be infected with one of these viruses. It should be noted, however, that the development of warts usually means that the body was unable to fight off the viruses that cause the HPV infection.
There are different types of warts that may develop upon the infection with a virus classified under this category of infections. Some common warts that tend to develop when a person is infected with HPV include:
- Common warts
- Flat warts
- Plantar Warts
- Genital Warts
The specific types of warts that a person may develop following an HPV infection depends on the particular strain of virus that they have been infected with.
What Are the Causes of HPV and How is HPV Transmitted?
While the HPV infection is usually categorized as an STI, sexual contact is not the only way that the infection spreads. The infection is caused by any one of the 150+ viruses that are classified within this category. There are many ways in which these viruses can spread from an infected person to a non-infected person, causing the virus to infect their bodies and possibly leading to HPV.
Some common ways that the HPV virus is known to spread include:
- Sexual contact is by far the most common way for the virus to spread, but, in most cases, sexual intercourse is associated with genital HPV. It should be noted that oral sex may also cause the virus to spread and may lead to an HPV infection that affects the upper respiratory system and the oral region of a person.
- When warts develop on an infected person, they are contagious. This means that any person not infected who comes into contact with an infected person’s warts are exposed to the specific strains of HPV viruses that have infected the person with warts.
- When the viruses that cause this infection enters non-infected person’s body through tears or cuts in their skin, then they can develop HPV.
It is also important to note that individuals with diseases that cause a weakened immune system, such as HIV, are at a higher risk of developing HPV following the exposure to one of the HPV virus strains.
The complications associated with this infection is considered troublesome and can lead to possibly fatal complications. Warts are often considered both a symptom and complication but are harmful in the majority of cases. The other complications that may be caused by an HPV infection are considered more serious.
There are cases where warts can become problematic. In particular, pregnant women with genital warts that becomes enlarged may experience complications during childbirth. There have also been some cases where a noncancerous growth developed on the larynx of the baby when the mother is affected by hpv genital warts that are large enough to cause a blockage in the birth canal.
Certain virus strains that cause the HPV infection are known to lead to lesions in the upper respiratory tract, as well as the oral area of the infected person. These lesions may develop on the soft palate, tongue nose, in the larynx, and on the tonsils of a person infected with the specific HPV strains.
The most troublesome complications of HPV are the fact that the virus has been directly linking to some cancers. Not all strains of viruses associated with HPV causes cancer. Some common cancers associated with certain strains of these viruses include:
- Anal cancer
- Vulvar cancer
- Throat cancer
- Penile cancer
Can HPV Cause Death?
HPV itself does not cause symptoms that may lead to life-threatening problems in an infected person. The infection can, however, cause the death of an infected person indirectly. HPV is known to contribute to a much higher risk of developing certain cancers in both men and women. When the virus causes the development of such cancer in an infected person, then cancer can cause death.
Can HPV Be Cured?
There are currently no cures that can be used to eliminate an HPV infection from a person’s body once they have been infected. The human body, however, is often capable of eliminating the viruses that cause the infection by itself before it leads to HPV, but this is not always the case.
Treatment for the HPV infection itself is not available, but there are management options available to help reduce the effects that the infection has on a person who has been infected. In most cases, treatments are provided to a person infected with HPV to help remove warts that are caused by the infection.
The most common treatment options for HPV-related warts include the use of salicylic acid solutions, as well as trichloroacetic acid solutions. Imiquimod and podofilox are also sometimes used. Imiquimod helps to strengthen the immune system against the HPV viruses. Podofilox is used externally to destroy genital warts directly.
Surgical approaches to the removal of warts have also been suggested. Additionally, other methods, such as the use of laser surgery, cryotherapy and electrocautery have also been used successfully in the treatment of these warts.
How Can HPV Be Prevented?
The prevention of HPV is a key factor in reducing the number of cancers caused by this infection. Prevention starts with safer sexual intercourse – through the use of condoms. It should, however, be noted that condoms are not considered a technique for providing 100% protection, but can help to reduce the risk of HPV transmission.
There are also different vaccines that have been approved as preventative measures against the HPV infection. The vaccines that are available protects a person against specific types of HPV viruses – in most cases, these vaccines aim to provide individuals with protection against the higher risk HPV strains that are known to cause cancer.
The most common vaccines provided to individuals at risk include:
- Gardasil 9
Other options are also available on the market. Many of these vaccines can be provided to children as young as nine years old. Older individuals who have not yet been vaccinated against the HPV infection should also consider obtaining the appropriate vaccines to avoid becoming infected upon the exposure to these viruses.
Is The HPV Vaccine Safe And Effective?
The vaccines that have been officially approved for the prevention of HPV infections are considered both safe and effective in the general population. It should be noted that some vaccines serve specific purposes – for example, some vaccines are only appropriate for men or women of certain ages. One study explains that the use of these vaccines can greatly reduce a person’s risk of obtaining this infection, which is especially important when that person may be exposed to a strain of these viruses that are linked to cancer in the future. Some mild side-effects have been noted following the administration of certain HPV vaccines, but these side-effects tend to clear up in a few days.
The Human Papillomavirus is currently considered most prevalent among all sexually transmitted infections. In most patients, symptoms do not develop following the infection with the virus, but complications can lead to a significant increase in the risk of developing certain types of cancers. While no cure has been discovered for patients infected with HPV, treatment is available for certain complications that may be caused by this infection. Prevention, however, remains the most effective approach and is recommended for the general population.