HPV virus (Human Papilloma Virus) belongs to a large family of widespread viruses. The different types of the virus can be classified by the differences in the DNA and are named by numbers (HPV6, HPV11, HPV16 etc).
What organs does it infect?
The virus infects only the skin and mucosa of specific organs. It might infect both male and female genitals, as well as the oral cavity and the pharynx.
Nowadays, HPV infection is the most common sexually transmitted disease (STD). According to current data, it is estimated that more than 80% of sexually active people are infected by one or more HPV types in some phase of their life. Infection shows up more commonly in younger ages, due to the frequent change of sexual partners. Epidemiological studies show that the probability of infection from some type of HPV virus ranges from 15% to 25% with every new sexual partner.
Low risk HPV types
The different types of the virus are distinguished as low and high risk types with respect to the risk of causing cancer.
Low risk HPV types (6, 11,42,43,44,54,61,70,72 and 81) generally cause benign lesions i.e. warts (90% of warts are caused by HPV 6 and 11). Usually, warts are evident during examination with a naked eye.
High risk HPV types
High risk HPV types (16,18, 31, 33, 35, 39, 45, 51,52, 56, 58, 59, 68, 73 and 82) may, under specific circumstances, cause cancer in certain organs (uterine cervix, vagina, anus, penis, pharynx). Alterations caused in the vagina and the uterine cervix are not always visible during simple clinical examination and are detected only by colposcopic examination.
Natural history of HPV infection
Most of the times, the immune system cures HPV infection within 2 years from the contamination and before any problem is provoked. Only in the cases where the virus remains in the cervical cells for years, there is danger for cancer to develop. It is not always clear why the virus persists in some cases, while not in some others.
How can I be infected by HPV?
The virus is transmitted by contact of outer genitals, usually during vaginal or anal sex. It may also be transmitted via oral sex. Most people are not aware that they are infected by the virus or that they transmit it to their partners. Just because it is such a common infection, you may be infected when you start sexual relationships and discover that you have the virus many years later.
Can Test Papanicolaou detect the HPV virus?
The Test Papanicoloaou is a cytological examination by which the infected by HPV virus cells, as well as the subsequent effects of the virus in these cells, are identified.
Will I transmit the virus to my current partner?
If you have the same partner for some time, then, probably, you have already transmitted the virus, but the symptoms may not have broken out yet. Sexual partners usually share the HPV virus, until the organism deals with it naturally. There is no way to know if your partner has transmitted the virus to you or if you have transmitted the virus to your partner.
How can I reduce the danger of transmitting the virus to my new partner?
Condoms reduce the danger of transmitting the virus to your partner, but they have to be used, from the beginning to the end of every sexual intercourse. However, the virus may infect parts not covered by the condom, so full protection is not achieved.
Moreover, there is the possibility of preventive vaccination against certain types of the virus that cause the most common problems to men and women.
Is there an HPV test for men?
HPV test is not available for men but only for women.
Is there a treatment for HPV?
There is no treatment for HPV virus, but we can remove pathological cervical cells infected by the virus. In most cases however, the body deals with the virus.
HPV infection and pregnancy
HPV infection doesn’t imply any difficulties conceiving or any complications during pregnancy. However, if you need treatment, e.g. LLETZ (that is, removal of a small part of the cervix), pregnancy might be affected (for example, the possibility of a premature birth may increase).
The decalogue of HPV
- HPV infection is very common, especially in young women. Every woman has an up to 80% chances to be infected by HPV during her life.
- Usually, HPV virus doesn’t cause any symptoms.
- There is no way to know if your partner transmitted the virus to you or the opposite, unless you had no sexual relationships in the past.
- HPV types are distinguished as high or low risk, according to the danger of carcinogenicity.
- Women and men could be vaccinated against the types of the virus that, more often, cause problems.
- In younger women, even high risk HPV infection, is suppressed up to 90%, in 2-3 years.
- HPV infection doesn’t imply difficulty in conceiving a baby or complications during pregnancy.
- In 10% of young women and about 10-20% of women older than 30 years, infection by high-risk HPV cannot be handled by their immune system. This small share of women has increased danger for developing precancerous lesions and cancer in the future.
- Usually, precancerous lesions (CIN 2-3 or HSIL), which precede cervical cancer, can be detected via a Papanicolaou test and colposcopy and removed.
- Cervical cancer is a rare consequence of infection by high-risk HPV types and most of the times is prevented.