Thursday, September 6, 2007

Human Papiloma Virus

Human Papiloma Virus - often referred to simply as "HPV" - is a virus that spreads by skin-to-skin contact or sexual contact; especially sexual intercourse. Thirty-seven of approximately one hundred different strains of human papiloma virus are known to be spread sexually. HPV causes warts and certain strains lead to cervical cancer.

Wait, it's an STD...?

Not necessarily. Human Papiloma Virus is the name given to many different strains of the same virus. It is commonly linked to warts generally, and genital warts specifically.

Genital warts, sometimes referred to as venereal warts are caused by one of about thirty strains of HPV. Thirteen of these strains are classified as high risk strains. Two of these strains (Types 16 and 18) are strongly linked to cervical cancer.

How did I get it?

If you're like approximately fifty percent of the sexually active population of the western world there's a good chance that you contracted human papiloma virus via sexual contact with an infected partner.

Unfortunately it is possible to be infected with HPV without displaying any symptoms and without feeling unwell. There's a strong possibility that if you contracted the virus from your partner, he or she was unaware that they were a carrier, and may even still be unaware.

It is vitally important if you believe that you are infected with human papiloma virus that you inform any sexual partners that you may have had. As previously noted, two specific strains of HPV have been identified as the cause of virtually all cases of cervical cancer. It is important that any female who believes she may have been exposed to human papiloma virus to schedule a pap smear without delay.

Complications from HPV
are not limited to females - aside from cervical cancer, complications (although rare) include anal cancer and cancer of the penis.

How do I cure it?

In short, you can't. There is no cure for human papiloma virus. Genital warts (or warts in other areas) are a symptom of the virus. Removing the warts does not cure the virus. Fortunately in most cases people are generally able to rid themselves of the virus after a few months, although it is common also to remain infected with the virus for a number of years.

Isn't there a vaccine?

Until recently there was no vaccine to protect against human papiloma virus.

Recently-released vaccine Gardasil (for girls aged between 9 and 26) is used to vaccinate against human papiloma virus types 6, 11, 16 and 18.

Types 16 and 18 have been identified as responsible for over seventy percent of cervical cancer, and types 6 and 11 have been identified as responsible for approximately ninety percent of cases of genital warts.

Please note that whilst there is a vaccine, these are not therapeutic drugs and will not help you get rid of HPV.

OK, so how do I get rid of the warts?

You may feel uncomfortable discussing your problem with a stranger, even if that stranger is a doctor. If you're nervous or uncertain about visiting a doctor about an outbreak of warts in your genital area, you can check this out.

Otherwise, the traditional medical treatment for warts (genital or otherwise) caused by human papiloma virus is usually one of the following:
  • Freezing: Liquid nitrogen is used to freeze the surface of the wart.
  • Burning: A hot wire or laser will be used to burn off the water (under local anaesthetic)
  • Chemical paint - Chemical paint is applied to the wart which burns the wart tissue, causing it to fall off.
  • Cream: This is applied for a period of a few weeks and will cause skin to peel away, taking warts with it.
For genital warts, do not use over-the-counter treatments intended for use on regular warts. Ano-genital areas (especially mucous membranes) are much more sensitive than other areas of your skin. Applying harsh chemicals to these areas is dangerous.

If you're worried about using harsh chemical paints and creams or applying liquid nitrogen (at -320 degrees) to your genitals, there are many other remedies you can try. If you're worried about asking for a genital wart cream from a pharmacist face-to-face, you can order products online such as this.

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