The human papillomavirus (HPV) is a sexually transmitted virus that currently causes the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States. HPV causes genital warts and can also lead to cancers of the reproductive and respiratory organs. It’s important to recognize the dangers of HPV and proactively vaccinate ourselves and our loved ones in order to stay healthy.
What is the Human Papillomavirus?
The human papillomavirus, also known as HPV, is spread through vaginal, anal or oral sex when one partner has the virus. Signs and symptoms may appear years after sexual activity with an infected individual. HPV can also be spread to a newborn during childbirth if the mother is infected. There are different strains of HPV and these strains can still be spread even when someone shows no signs of infection.
How Does Human Papillomavirus Affect the Body?
Different strains of the virus can cause different clinical manifestations. HPV types 6 and 11 cause rough genital warts that resemble the shape of a cauliflower. These warts can be flat or raised. Though sometimes genital warts caused by HPV are itchy and uncomfortable, infected individuals report that these warts usually aren’t painful. The flat variety of warts put an infected individual at risk for cervical or penile cancer due to tissue changes that occur as a result.
Other HPV strains include HPV 16 and 18 which cause about 70% of cervical cancers and pre-cancerous lesions in infected individuals. HPV doesn’t only put someone at risk for cancer of reproductive organs. Infection with the virus has been linked to an increased chance of developing cancer of the larynx, cancer of the pharynx and cancer of the oral cavity (including the base of the tongue and the tonsils).
The Warts Don’t Hurt, So What’s the Big Deal?
According to the CDC, HPV is so common in the United States that every unvaccinated person who is sexually active will contract the virus at some point in their lifetime. Before the introduction of the HPV vaccine, about 340,000 to 360,000 individuals suffered from genital warts caused by HPV. About 12,000 women develop cervical cancer annually from HPV and roughly 4,000 women die from cervical cancer, despite treatment and screenings.
Even though the genital warts caused by HPV might not be painful, the risks associated with the virus are. HPV can lead to cancer. HPV can kill. It’s important to protect ourselves from the human papillomavirus through preventative vaccinations.
Protection Against HPV
Contracting HPV doesn’t mean that someone will immediately develop cancer. Just like genital warts, the cancers caused by the human papillomavirus can take years to develop after someone has been infected. Not all infected individuals develop cancer. But, there is no way to guarantee that an infected individual will be safe from cancer after contracting the virus. The best way to ensure that someone won’t get cancer from HPV is to take preventative measures to avoid contracting the virus in the first place.
Vaccination against HPV is the best preventative measure someone can take to protect themselves from contracting the virus. The CDC recommends that individuals get vaccinated at 11 or 12 years old. If not already vaccinated, anyone up to the age of 26 years old is recommended to take the HPV vaccine.
HPV affects the body in various ways and can lead to even deadlier health complications. It’s important to adopt safe sexual practices and ensure that you and your loved ones are vaccinated against the human papillomavirus.
Passport Health offers HPV and other key routine vaccinations. Call or book online to schedule your appointment today.
Ese Agboh is a student nurse who wants to specialize in pediatric nursing and wound care. In her free time, she enjoys reading and writing articles related to medicine and the pathophysiology of communicable diseases. Ese currently lives and studies on the east coast of the United States.